Tag Archives: Australia

Turnbull, #climate and the National Press Club #auspol

On February 1st Malcolm Turnbull will make a major speech on the Coalition’s climate and energy policy at the National Press Club.In his last public utterance on the topic, at the Sydney fish market in December last year, he spilt coffee , perhaps trying to douse the flames caused by Josh Frydenberg’s declaration that carbon pricing would be considered in this year’s policy review. Turnbull ruled that out, so who knows what he  will say on Wednesday. One well-informed and immensely experienced observer reports that

“Turnbull will announce new vehicle emissions standards and a new energy efficiency scheme. He and his office are looking at “technological solutions” – bright new ideas in solar thermal, or battery or carbon storage technology that might fill the policy void. But all those technologies need government policies to provide investors with incentives and certainty, and without actually confronting the climate doubters no one can imagine what that policy might be.”

(Another similarly-credentialled observer says he is the weakest Prime Minister since Billy McMahon )Who knows, perhaps Turnbull will dust off the ‘Greenhouse Challenge‘ voluntary programme for industry that Prime Minister Paul Keating started and  John Howard extended. We will know soon enough.

Meanwhile, the National Press Club has a long and interesting (if you’re a pathetic geek like me) history with climate change, and it tells us something about Australian journalistic responses to climate change.

Clubbing together
The Press Club began life as a press luncheon club, the result of some journalists having an (uncharacteristic for the profession) drinks in a Canberra watering hole. It seeks “to provide a genuine national forum for discussion of the issues of the day by the personalities who help shape them.” (A cynic might say that it is a way for journalists to have stories handed to them literally on a plate, with some nice plonk alongside.) The first speaker, on 17 May 1963, was Chief Justice and External Affairs Minister Sir Garfield Barwick.  Soon after Barwick helped establish the Australian Conservation Foundation.  The Press Club initially only held a few events a year, but it has grown steadily and there are now about 70 a year. Early environmental speakers included conservationist Harry Butler (October 3 1979) and in mid 1984 the German Greens Petra Kelly  who you can hear here 

The Club, naturally, reflects the concerns of the day, and politicians of the day fly kites and announce policies.  The climate issue seems to have reached the Club in October 1988,when the Liberal Senator Chris Puplick, the Opposition’s Environment spokesperson  launched the Opposition’s environmental policy and spoke on past Coalition.  It seems bizarre now, but Puplick then  went on to develop a policy on climate change that was more ambitious than Labor’s and took it to the 1990 Federal election.

Puplick and his Labor opponent Graham Richardson debated at the Press Club on March 7, 1990, just before the Federal election, and it was from  the club that Bob Hawke made his final (and successful) appeal to green-minded voters, calling on  disaffected voters not to vote green but, if they did so, to direct their second preferences to Labour. He warned. “When you wake up on 25 March there won’t be a Democrat government or a green independent government.”

In June 1989,  the inaugural Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory,  Rosemary Follett,  had appeared at the club and said that she was

“particularly concerned with environmental issues of national and international significance. The people of the ACT can be assured that the government intends to act locally in addressing issues such as the Greenhouse Effect and Protection of the Ozone Layer.”

Richardson had appeared shortly afterwards,after two cancellations for lack of journalist interest.. He talked tough (it’s how the man rolls) on the Federal government perhaps using its constitutional powers to override state decisions on environmental matters. He also confirmed a report by Michelle Grattan about a Cabinet meeting at which Treasurer Paul Keating had vetoed his proposal for a 20 per cent reduction in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2005 (the so-called ‘Toronto Target’ ). He told the assembled hacks

“… When I put this target to our Cabinet, I came under close questioning by the economic ministers. I couldn’t sustain my argument with sufficient science.

“I haven’t yet learnt how to lose gracefully so I was angry. I delved into the department’s records so that I could write to my Cabinet colleagues and demand a reconsideration. The cupboard, however was bare, and the letter was never written.”

[Dunn, R. 1989. Cabinet reduces greenhouse target. Australian Financial Review, 26 July.]

Sir Ninian Stephen, by then Australia’s first Environment Ambassador, spoke wittily in late 1990 on the topic of  “the environment: a passing storm or an issue for all seasons” (you can listen here –  He argued that it didn’t matter what he said, only if he blundered in the Q and A.

The following year the Canadian entrepreneur behind the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, Maurice Strong, spoke. In November 1992, after Rio, Jeremy Leggett, a former geologist who had become  Greenpeace International’s Atmosphere and Energy Campaign leader spoke (his book The Carbon War is a terrific read, btw).

Worth remembering
Amid all the advocates of action (Ian Lowe, Peter Garrett, David Suzuki, Bob Brown, Gro Harlam Brundtland, Nick Stern), perhaps the one we should most remember is President Kinza Cloduma of Nauru.  In late 1997, when the Australian government’s diplomatic push for special treatment at the impending Kyoto Protocol meeting had silenced the South Pacific Forum’s attempt at a strong pro-action statement, Cloduma told the journalists

“I am not impressed when Mr. Howard openly scorns the critical nature of the situation in order to bow to the will of the fossil fuel industry.”

There have been peaks and troughs of concern since then, with scientists speaking  in September 2000 “Greenhouse Science Forum: How Real is Climate Change? What does Science Tell Us?”,  Ian Lowe spoke in 2005 on “ Is Nuclear Power Part of Australia’s Global Warming Solution?” (his answer was ‘nope’).

In the white-heat of the 2008-9 carbon pricing battles, Ross Garnaut seems to have had a camp-bed at the NPC, so often was he using it to launch various drafts of his climate reviews.  The Greens’ Christine Milne argued on 17 June 2009 that “The Climate nightmare is upon us.”  Bob Brown and  Ziggy Switowski debated nuclear versus renewables in April of the following year [thanks to the reader who alerted me to this!]

Less emphatically,  Penny Wong, Kevin Rudd, Greg Combet and Julia Gillard all used the NPC to launch various climate policy papers. In mid 2011, Gillard, under ferocious attack over her carbon proposal launched “The Government’s plan for a clean energy future”. She  was asked by Mark Riley about journalist famously suggesting that journalists ‘don’t write crap – it can’t be that hard.’

Since then the club has seen – among others –

Two way traffic
It hasn’t been one-way traffic. An early example of a sceptical perspective came in mid 1992 when Prof Richard Lindzen, Professor of Meteorology at  Massachusetts Institute of Technology spoke. (He had been brought out by the CSIRO atmospheric science division, which was then headed by G.B Tucker. Tucker had been aware of the issue in the mid-70s, and written an early monograph – The CO2-climate connection : a global problem from an Australian perspective–  in 1981, but in retirement wrote pieces for the Institute for Public Affairs with titles like  ‘The Greenhouse Panic’. But I digress)

Three years later the Club heard from  Dr Patrick  Moore who was billed as a “ Canadian Environmentalist and one of the founders of Greenpeace”.The first term can be debated. The second cannot.

Climate change exploded as a public policy issue in Australia in late 2006.   It’s ironic to remember now, but when John Howard’s hand-picked emissions taskforce suggested that a low tax on carbon emissions — less than $5 per tonne –  might give Australia a start in preparing for an eventual global emissions trading system , the  Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Mitchell Hooke argued at the press club that while Australia should not embark on unilateral action, there was scope for “unilateral leadership”. He said

“I don’t want a blunt economic instrument of a carbon tax [but] I would see that kind of low order price as being part of a cap and trade framework.”

Hooke hardened his line, of course, as time went on.  At the peak of the 2011 carbon pricing battles, in June, the Australian Coal Association’s Ralph Hillman spoke on “The mining industry’s position on the carbon tax.”

The same month,  Lord Monckton  and the Australia Institute’s Richard Denniss squared off in a debate. Two weeks later  former President Vaclav Klaus President of the Czech Republic  spoke on “Climate Change: A new ideology”

Bjorn Lomborg followed up his October 2003  visit with another ten years later in December 2013.  Now that he won’t be having his ‘consensus centre’ , the trend suggests it might be another 6 years before he appears again.

Journalism and climate change
The Press Club’s willingness to host those who deny basic scientific facts is indicative of a broader difficulty that journalism has had with this issue.  Academic studies of the journalism profession’s dilemma over climate change. One influential paper argues that “balance is bias”, given the overwhelming scientific argument (and dare we say ‘consensus’) on anthropogenic climate change. The authors argue that

“the prestige press’s adherence to balance actually leads to biased coverage of both anthropogenic contributions to global warming and resultant action.”

John Oliver put it more visually with this stunt on ‘Last Week Tonight’

Australia’s experience has been extensively studied – see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. For starters.

All this is part of a battle for hearts and minds – what counts as ‘common sense’ and shapes or sustains the institutions  – “stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior” – underpinning society.

Recently scientists have been admitting that studying climate change exacts an emotional toll. Journalists are following suit.

Malcolm Turnbull first addressed the club on March 18 1992, wearing his Australian Republican Movement hat.  He might need better head-wear this time round.  When Kevin Rudd launched the White Paper of his ill-fated and unloved Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme three protesters were dragged out The numbers of protesters there to greet him on February 1st will probably fall closer to that than the 1500 who turned up to say g’day to Pauline Hanson in 1997

But on the day, and indeed all through the year, Turnbull will – like other endangered Australian fauna – be feeling the heat.

Why we are toast: Aussie Corporate perspectives on #climate innovation

Mikler, J and Harrison, N. 2013. Climate Innovation: Australian Corporate Perspectives on the Role of Government. Australian Journal of Politics and History, Vol. 59, (3), pp.414-428.

Nothing I have learnt in the last two years of reading a lot (no, even by my OCD*-ish standards) has so much as grazed – let alone dented – my sense that our species is toast, sooner than most folks think.    And one of the many latest things I’ve read is the above paper.

Mikler and Harrison got access (on basis of anonymity) to a bunch of Australian corporate executives, at or nearish the top of the food chain.  As you’d expect from ‘agentic deadlock’, they blame the government for not setting the rules of the game.  Believe it or not (and some will not), I have some sympathy for the view – though of course other corporates have been busy white-anting [that’s Australian for ‘under-mining’] all efforts at bringing in predictable/strong rules.  For gory details, see Clive Hamilton’s Scorcher and Guy Pearse’s High and Dry especially.

Here are some quotes (especially ones that contain quotes from interviewees)

Given the lack of a business case for climate innovation purely on the basis of GHG emission reductions, all interviewees stressed that those of the radical variety in particular, entailing the entire redesign of processes or products, were highly unlikely without strong regulatory requirements and substantial support on the part of government. To one degree or another, they echoed the sentiment that “regulatory is by far the strongest driver” of GHG emission reductions and that “regulations drive innovation”.

(Mikler and Harrison, 2013:421)

[compare with 2006 letter to Blair from 14 top execs in UK]

Echoing the point made earlier about price inelasticity of demand, it was interesting to note that nearly all the interviewees said the tax needed to be much higher, with one commenting that although it was high enough to reduce profitability it was not high enough to substantively drive innovation. One interviewee put the case thus:

Either you put it in as a token leadership issue, and awareness issue at something like $10 a tonne which we could easily cope with, or you put it in at $60 or $70 which would actually drive innovation and change. Putting it in at $23 is completely useless, achieves nothing in terms of drivers for innovation and just costs the economy.
(Mikler and Harrison, 2013:422)

The time frames are all wrong, of course.

Another point made by all interviewees was that much more was required of government to drive climate innovation, especially that of the more radical variety. As one interviewee put it, “climate innovation has got to be long term, so there’s got to be a strategy and it’s not about short-term programs”. Given that more radical climate innovation involves substantial capital expenditure and a five to eight year commitment at least, with the prospect of uncertain future returns over a longer period of time after this, “if your legislation is changing on a six monthly basis you just can’t do it”.

(Mikler and Harrison, 2013:422)

And reading this in 2016 makes me cry (with hollow laughter)

It was sobering, to say the least, to hear all of them view the potential for a change of government at the 2013 election with nothing less than a sense of dread. As one interviewee put it, “we’ve got Mr Abbott making a blood oath to repeal the carbon tax, and we’re not too sure what that really means”. Another said “the conservative governments will deliberately stuff it up so that in an election year nothing is working, regardless of the fact it will just mean a few more years of the pain for everybody”. Yet another said “a change of government would be a disaster”.
(Mikler and Harrison, 2013:423)

And it’s the customers fault, natch.

All interviewees stated, often quite bluntly, that they perceived no business case for climate innovation specifically. This is because they did not believe consumers were sufficiently demanding less GHG emissions-intensive products, unless they can be provided at the same or lower cost. With the costs and risks involved in climate innovation for such products, there was therefore limited incentive to invest in them.

As one interviewee said, “the options around the consumer driving it are fairly limited”, while another noted that “we can’t build a model around […] the top two per cent of consumers who will buy green products”.
(Mikler and Harrison, 2013:424)

Hey, guess what. The market will not provide. Neither will the state.  Ooh, here comes the fricking apocalypse.

The sentiment of all interviewees was summed up by one who said “if it’s not supported by government, then they vote with their feet, the public vote with their feet, and whatever’s most cost efficient they’ll move to”. In the absence of this support, none of the interviewees saw market imperatives for climate innovation, either now or in the future, despite raised awareness. Indeed, one said that “what the community expects is that government will reflect their attitudes because they’re not going to pay for companies to reflect it”, while in a similar vein another said that “you can’t afford to create awareness. It costs too much money. The very best way of initiating change is through government regulations.”
(Mikler and Harrison, 2013:424)

This is a good paper. The authors are well into the whole Varieties of Capitalism stuff, (see their book), and this article, based on interviews within a Liberal Market Economy called Australia (aka quarry with a state apparatus attached) is a depressing companion to books by Clive Hamilton, Guy Pearse, Philip Chubb and Maria Taylor.

And once you’re done with them, then these beckon-

Fred Block, “Swimming Against the Current: the Rise of a Hidden Developmental State in the United States”, Politics and Society, Vol. 36, 2 (2008), pp.169-206;

Fred Block and Matthew R.Keller, “Where do Innovations Come From? Transformations in the US Economy, 1970-2006”, Socio-economic Review, Vol. 7 (2009), pp.459-483;

Fred Block and Matthew R. Keller, State of Innovation: The US Government’s Role in Technology Development (Boulder, 2011).

*I know I am probably mis-using the term, but not by so much.  Why do I read so much? A host of reasons from my upbringing, I suspect [as if you could ever say for sure!]. To do with retreat, with a sense of control, physiological [autonomic] responses, then because … oh, who knows. A post for a very slow news day.

“Learning Curve” briefing on OECD and #coal subsidies decision #climate #roadtoparis

On Tuesday the OECD will be meeting. It’s the rich countries’ club, a useful talking shop for elite decision makers.  On the agenda is what to do about the awkward fact that while we SAY we want to stop the world getting more than two degrees warmer, at the same time we are allowing public money to help build new coal-fired power stations in the developing world, competing with renewable energy.  The USA and Japan want some relatively tight rules.  On the other side is South Korea and Australia (always such a good global citizen when it comes to coal and climate, oh yes) with a proposal for much looser rules. It’s basically a spoiler operation to water things down.

So, I did a “briefing paper” on what is at stake here, giving a bit of the history.  It’s the first of a series of brief briefings which I am going to write about recent coal/climate battles (although I am fascinated by the period 1988 to 1997, there just isn’t the word count in my eventually-forthcoming PhD thesis to justify further research.  Sad face.)  The idea is to help me get my head around key dates, key players, key battles, put it out into the world and then be told by people who know better that I am wrong about x or y or z….

The briefing paper is here as a doc, here as a pdf.

And I’ve cut and paste it below too, but the formatting is inevitably a bit wonky..

PLEASE let me know what you think.  What have I got wrong?  What have I not explained (it’s probably because I don’t know it myself).  What should I have read and said?  Thank you.

Learning Curve” briefing: The November17th OECD decision on coal subsidies, and why it matters.

Marc Hudson

15th November 2015

What’s up?

On Tuesday 17th November there is going to be a bun-fight in Paris. The “Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development” (a club of 34 rich countries) is having a meeting and there may be some fur flying. The USA and Japan, backed by Germany and France, are proposing some new ‘tough’ rules about the coal industry. Specifically, they want to stop rich countries being able to give money to poor countries to build new coal-fired power stations. Not totally, don’t get giddy – there is a loophole; “ultra-supercritical pressure coal plants” would still be eligible for public money under the US/Japan proposal. By a strange coincidence, Japan leads the world in that particular technology. According to one recent study (Bast et al. 2015) Japan and Japanese companies (I’m looking at you, Toshiba Corp) are $20bn to the good for flogging these technologies over the last seven years.

Meanwhile, South Korea and Australia (by another eerie coincidence the world’s biggest coal exporter) have cooked up a rival plan that is a lot weaker, as a spoiler.

The US/Japan proposal includes a clause saying a coal plant can only get “export guarantee” money if cleaner options like renewables can’t be done. The Australians want that clause removed. Classy.

Why now?

Have you been stranded on Mars with Matt Damon? There’s a big climate conference, also in Paris, in two weeks’ time. At that meeting some protesters will get beaten up and our lords and masters will cook up a PR deal that convinces enough people that climate change is being dealt with. Do keep up.

So what; why do coal subsidies matter? Isn’t renewables the Wave of the Future?
The fossil fuel industry knows it is in trouble. Coal-fired power stations aren’t getting built in the kinds of numbers that people who sell coal for fun and profit (especially profit) would like. So, as old plants are shut down and replaced by gas-fired or renewables (nuclear remains in the doldrums) , then the demand for ‘steaming coal’ (the kind you burn to make electricity) might shrink, and as demand shrinks so would price. The price is already low (especially compared to the boom that ended in 2011) and that is causing all sorts of headaches for the industry in both Australia and the United States.

Renewables are indeed growing quickly, but from a very low level. What we’re seeing is a battle – coal is fighting a rearguard action, and renewables is trying to grow as quickly as it can (obvs). This subsidy fight is just one example, one battle in a broad war.

So when did all this hoo-hah start?

In 1824 a French guy realised there must be something stopping all the heat bouncing off the earth. In 1859… wait, you mean the OECD subsidy thing, don’t you? Well, the OECD and its step-child the International Energy Agency (established in 1974 after the Western world got slapped around the face by the first Oil Shock) have been looking at environmental issues for yonks. The IEA has done its fair share of boosting the coal trade (remind me to show you a 1979 report I stumbled across sometime).

The OECD has been working with the G7 and G20 (groups of the top 7 and top 20 richest countries) for quite a while now, on the whole “green growth” (cough, cough) thing and facilitating climate finance (a fancy way of saying finding money for cleaner energy when nobody wants to be the one paying to “save” the planet).

Back in September 2009, as part of the pre-Copenhagen hype, the G20 leaders said they would “rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption”. The OECD, IEA, OPEC and World Bank have been looking at it closely since then.

Grok this from a recent example, a 2013 report that was snappily titled “Climate and Carbon: Aligning Prices and Policies

Across the OECD, a significant portion of support for fossil fuels is provided through

reductions in, or exemptions from, energy taxes. The OECD (2013b) has identified over 550 individual support mechanisms that directly or indirectly encourage the production or consumption of fossil fuels across OECD countries. Producer support mechanisms include i) government intervention in market mechanisms to alter costs or prices, ii) transfers of funds to producers, iii) reduction, rebate or removal of certain taxes, and iv) the government assuming part of the production risk.”

In a June 2013 speech President Obama called for an end to public money for new overseas coal plants “unless they deploy carbon-capture technologies, or there’s no other viable way for the poorest countries to generate electricity(Plumer, 2013).

According to Lake (2015) they’ve been talking about “discussions to phase out export credit finance for coal power stations in the OECD commenced last year, but hit a stalemate in June this year.” That’s because Japan played the “I need a little more time” card (Guardian, 2015), but was been brought round to the USA’s way of thinking by October.

Btw, earlier in June a corking report “Under the Rug: How Governments and International Institutions are hiding billions in support to the coal industry” was released.

Why are USA and Japan acting as they are?

President Obama, under all kinds of pressure, is chasing a legacy, and it’s not going to come via anything that involves getting a treaty through the US Senate, nosiree. The Japanese also have their own international problems, since their coal consumption has gone up since they shut down their nuclear power stations. This deal seems to be around giving their reputations a bit of a polish, without pissing off too many domestic groups who could make electoral pain. Meanwhile, it would be a nice little earner for the the Japanese economy, since anyone (mostly from Asia and South America, where economies are growing fast and decent coal in decent quantities is relatively hard to come by) wanting to build a new coal-fired power plant would probably be flying to Tokyo, cheque book in hand. It also is tied up with Japan’s ongoing competition – on many levels – with China. Geo-politics, eh, whaddyagonna do?

Why are Australia and South Korea blocking? What is Australia’s motivation in this?

Australia is wanting to defend its coal exports. For the last 25 years, that’s been its primary motivation, in terms of foreign policy. They’re very up front and unashamed about this.

Also, the fact that “Australia, one of the world’s 10 richest countries , received over $4bn in funding for new coal projects – mostly for mines and mostly from Japan” may not be totally irrelevant… With the South Koreans, well, their export agency dishes out $7bn a year (Matthiesen, 2015). As Sebastien Godinot, an economist with WWF-Europe, said in June “Their intention is clearly to buy time or to block any substantial progress.” (Matthieson, 2015).

There’s resistance to this in Australia. Morton (2015) writes

10 environment and like-minded groups including Greenpeace, WWF, the Wilderness Society and the Australian Conservation Foundation have written an open letter to the government calling on it to back the US and Japan and ratify a deal. The letter says it would be “deeply embarrassing” for Australia if it were the only country to not support or further weaken an agreement – “particularly when countries such as Japan and Germany, which export coal plant technology, have agreed to limit support for coal plants”.”

The government leader in the Senate George Brandis said in parliament that the country “believes in the coal industry… We know that Australia produces some of the cleanest coal in the world… and it is a very important source of prosperity for the Australian economy, and very important source of jobs for Australians.”

How will it all get decided?

OECD decisions are made by consensus, and it will be mildly interesting to see if the new-look government in Australia (Tony Abbott got turfed six weeks ago, do keep up), is willing to play the bad boy and scupper the deal.

But “super-critical” is good, right? I mean, new technologies make coal okay-ish?

Well, um… “no.”. As Lake (2015) points out.

The International Energy Agency recently highlighted that in order to meet the [average-global-temperature-rise-of-no-more-than] 2℃ goal, any new power stations must on average emit 200 grams of CO₂ per kilowatt-hour, whereas even super-critical power stations emit above 600 grams per kWh.”

But I mean, the West is trying to help out, right?

Well, as one reviewer of this piece astutely noted – “I missed the neocolonialist punchline: we restrict developing economies’ support to boost our own economy, while at the same time we pretend to do something good. In reality though, we’re just protecting our privileges…”

What is this OECD thing anyway?

The OECD would say of itself ;

The mission of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. The OECD provides a forum in which governments can work together to share experiences and seek solutions to common problems. We work with governments to understand what drives economic, social and environmental change. We measure productivity and global flows of trade and investment. We analyse and compare data to predict future trends. We set international standards on a wide range of things, from agriculture and tax to the safety of chemicals.”

A cynic would say it’s the rich man’s club, set up in 1961 to defend the Western economic order when the self-described Communist world still existed and there were some ‘independent’ states, with more expected, and that since then it has morphed into one of those useful talking shops and spaces where complex issues get threshed and thrashed out so that the biggest of the big boys and girls can then do a red carpet photo op.

And how does this relate to the whole Paris thing?

It doesn’t, not directly. But if Tuesday goes well for the US and Japan, it adds the momentum and that Something Is Being Done. If Australia “wins” Malcolm Turnbull will get some frosty froggy glares when he’s in Paris for the opening day of the Paris summit. But frankly, everyone is used to Australia being an unrepentant and irredeemable sociopath by now. And Julie Bishop, Australian Foreign Minister and now co-chair of the “Green Climate Fund” may get some froideur, but since everything is – with her help – getting warmer, then it all evens out in the end, eh?

Um, okay, so where can I get more information?

There are the official websites of these outfits, and particular campaigning groups that keep an eye on it all;


Oil Change International


World Resources Institute Sustainable Finance Programme

In terms of newspapers, your best bet is the Financial Times.

Anything else I should know?

Yeah, the species has almost certainly left it too late to do anything about climate change. Yes, there’ll be some wind farms, but pretty soon we will panic and reach for the geo-engineering. You’d be well advised to take one or both of the following courses of action: 1) stockpile shotgun ammo and baked beans in a sick survivalist psychodrama 2) dance and drink and screw

Key dates

2009 (Sept) G20 meeting in Pittsburgh says leaders will work to abolish export subsidies

2009 (Dec) COP19 Copenhagen climate conference ends in farce

2013 (June) President Obama gives ‘we really oughta stop with these subsidies’ speech

2014-5 Negotiations, ending in deadlock in June. Japan gets its arm twisted/drives a harder bargain


Bast, E., Godinot,S., Kretzmann, S. and Schmidt, J. 2015. Under the Rug. How Governments and International Institutions are hiding billions in support to the coal industry. NRDC Oil Change International WWF http://priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2015/05/Under_The_Rug_NRDC_OCI_WWF_Jun_2015.pdf

Friedman L. and Vaidyanathan, G. 2015. U.S. and Japan to announce deal curbing coal financing. EE News, 27 October. http://www.eenews.net/stories/1060026972

Guardian (2015) OECD talks to phase out coal subsidies end in stalemate. , 12 June.


Lake, K. 2015 OECD coal discussions highlight tensions in Australia’s position on climate change. The Conversation, 13 November.


Matthiesen, K. 2015. Japan and South Korea top list of biggest coal financiers. Guardian. 2 June.
Morton, A. 2015. Turnbull government accused of blocking US, Japan plan to reduce coal. Sydney Morning Herald, 11 November.


Plumer, B. 2013. The U.S. will stop financing coal plants abroad. That’s a huge shift. Washington Post, 27 June.


Disclaimers and biography

This briefing is not definitive! Not even of what I know now, let alone what I will (hopefully) learn. All constructive criticisms of blind spots/misinterpretations gratefully received. You don’t even have to be polite about it. Tweet me at @marcsrhudson

This is published under a Creative Commons non-commercial 3.0 licence. Mash it up, but credit me. Don’t sell it, ‘kay?

Thanks: Malte and Pat.

Marc Hudson, besides trying to extract himself from editing “Manchester Climate Monthly,” is a second year PhD candidate at the Sustainable Consumption Institute, studying how come and how coal is still in the game almost thirty years after climate scientists and some ‘issue entrepreneur’ activists, bureaucrats and politicians managed to wake everyone up to the threat of anthropogenic global warming. The views, snark and glibness contained herein are entirely his own, and in no way represent the official position of the SCI, the University of Manchester or anyone else, obvs.

Future “Learning Curve” briefings will appear on – (Australian) divestment, peak bodies & umbrella groups, carbon capture and storage, local coal conflicts, denialism, the coal industry’s recent trajectory.

Tony Abbott and his #climate record since becoming Prime Minister 2 years ago #auspol

By their fruit ye shall know them.”  Since September 7th 2013 Tony Abbott has done his best to undermine Australia’s response to climate change.  Here’s a guide to the ruins, under the following headings

  • Opposing robust climate action
  • Attacking green groups
  • In favour of coal
  • Undermining renewables
  • Symbolic action

[If I’ve missed anything, please let me know! Btw, for blistering critiques of Abbott’s reign more generally, see Michelle Grattan and Lenore Taylor.]

Opposing robust climate action
1)  Julia Gillard, as the price of Green Party support for her minority government, had skilfully guided the ‘Clean Energy Futures’ package through parliament, over protests. An emissions trading scheme became law in July 2012. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott swore a ‘blood oath’ that he would repeal it. And he was as good as his word. As a consequence, emissions from electricity generation, which were reducing, are going up.

2) Keeping climate out of domestic policy documents

  • The 2015 Energy White Paper got word-counted by the folks at Reneweconomy – “Gas leads still with 173, while coal gets 47 and nuclear 23. Solar gets 19 mentions, battery storage six and wind energy gets just the one mention – in a generic sentence that says Australia has “world class” solar, geothermal and wind resources.” (this is ongoing – the 2004 Energy White Paper was basically a fossil fuel industry wish list)

It will be interesting to see if climate gets more of a mention in the Defence White Paper due later this year. Could go either way ( see here and here).

3) Abbott attempted to keep climate change off the agenda at G20 meeting in Brisbane in 2014, resulting in embarrassment, a healthy dose of schadenfreude for everyone else.  In general he’s been snubbing the international process by not sending a minister to 2013 Warsaw Conference of the Parties (and undermining Julie Bishop at the 2014 COP in Lima by sending Andrew Robb to ride shotgun). Inevitably, his government didn’t put forward its targets for Paris until the last minute, and then feeble ones at that – “statistical sophistry and deceptive deadlines.”

Attacking green groups
In December 2013 Abbott defunded the Environmental Defence Organisations making it harder for civil society to know about, and challenge, dodgy ‘development’ decisions. Most infamously, in response to ‘green sabotage’ (er, using the law) that has delayed the Carmichael Mine, Abbott wants to strip people of their ability to participate in legal process unless they are ‘directly affected’.
At the behest of state-level resource councils, it is investigating the charitable status of green groups (to try to dry up their funding) This ties up these groups’ very limited resources.  Whether it ‘succeeds’ or fails, that’s how wars of attrition work.  Meanwhile, as The Australia Institute points out, the resources councils get even bigger tax breaks!
[Fun fact:  John  Howard also attacked civil society, and the Institute of Public Affairs got $50,000 of tax-payers money to help out].

In favour of coal
Rhetorical; Opening the Caval Ridge coal mine  in October 2014, Abbott intoned – ‘coal is good for humanity’, echoing the Peabody campaign ‘Advanced Energy for Life’  He offers ongoing (rhetorical) support for CCS, while cutting $460m from the research budget (no bad thing, many will think.)

Practical;In July 2014 Environment Minister Greg Hunt gave planning permission for the Carmichael Mine (won’t anyone think of the skinks?) In July 2015 the Abbott giving planning permission for the Shenhua Coal Mine on the Liverpool Plains. Abbott has als set up the $5bn Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (which is not just for coal of course!) There are of course ongoing federal subsidies, which beggar belief.

Undermining renewables
Australia should be an energy superpower. It was a world leader in renewables, but the CSIRO shut down its research in 1983, and alongside a more general ‘brain drain’ Australia’s lead evaporated.
In order to get around his election promise not to cut renewables, appointing climate denier Dick Warburton to re-examine (and in a shock move advocate cutting), for the gazillionth time, the Renewables Energy Target that came into force because John Howard had to promise it as part of his pre-Kyoto placation.
He’s appointed a wind-farm commissioner to ‘investigate’ spurious health claims.
Having reduced the Large Scale Renewable Energy Target (RET) Abbott is attacking the small-scale RET target
He’s tried to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, (CEFC), and then when he didn’t have the numbers, forcing it not to do its job of  supporting technologies that are near commercialisation. He’s also attempted to abolish Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Symbolic action
The main (already failed) plank of Abbott’s emissions reduction is ‘Direct Action’  (Independent Senator Nick Xenophon recently pointed out that the safeguards for an already dodgy scheme are not in place). Meanwhile he has claimed Australia has reached its Kyoto target, using ‘considerable diplomatic effort’ to hid actual levels of emissions. He’s attempted to set up ‘Climate Consensus’ centre, with Bjorn Lomborg, first at University of Western Australia and then at Flinders University in South Australia. He’s appointed arch denialist Maurice Newman as his chief business adviser, and Common-Grace-1refused a gift of solar panels for Kirribilli house (as did John Howard).  Oh, and for his ‘sins’ Kevin Rudd’s first climate act was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Abbott’s was to… abolish the Climate Commission

What does it all mean?
People often think that the Liberals simply do what Big Business tell them.  Perhaps, but on climate change the picture has, for 15 years been complicated by the question ‘which bit of big business?’  Ten years ago it was only banks, insurance industry and bits of the energy industry who demurred from the mining-industry-led blocking.That began to break down in 2006.

Now, big business seems to be awake to the damage Mr Abbott is causing. Renewables investment is fleeing the country. In combination with Big Green, business has set up an Australian Climate Roundtable,. There has been some hand-wringing about ‘policy uncertainty’, but less about the coal exports…

There are two questions –

  • how come they didn’t fight harder in 2011 and 2012, when it could have made a difference?
  • do they think another three years of Tony Abbott will serve their interests any better?

Keeping up to date
There are two journalists I read whenever I can – Lenore Taylor and Mike Seccombe; both have been on the climate beat for decades, have great contacts and even greater insight.   Bob Burton’s work on  PR, Coal and corporate strategy makes him invaluable (see his latest project, Coalswarm).
There are of course, great writers on ‘The Conversation‘ (and I am on it too)
On renewable energy and incumbent strategies, Reneweconomy  (though I think they sometimes mishandle the knotty concept of grid parity)

Some (there are others – these mostly cover the politics) excellent books
Ian Lowe (2005) Living in the Hothouse: how global warming affects Australia
Clive Hamilton‘s “Running from the Storm” (2001) and “Scorcher” (2007)
Guy Pearse’s brilliant High and Dry (2007), his other work too (especially ‘Big Coal’)
Maria Taylor’s (2015) Global Warming and Climate Change: What Australians Knew… and then buried
Philip Chubb (2014) Power Failure: the inside story of climate politics under Rudd and Gillard
Chris Wright and Daniel Nyberg (2015) Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations: Processes of Creative Self-Destruction (NB I’ve only read the first – good- few chapters so far and  Chris Wright is a friend.)

DISCLAIMERS:  I am very well aware that life was not a bed of roses under the Australian Labor Party, 2007-2013. The mitigation targets were hopelessly inadequate, adaptation got stuffed etc etc.  Oh, and  I am not now, nor at any time in the past have been a member of the Green Party (Australia, UK, Mars) or indeed of ANY political party. I’m just a bewildered and dispirited member of a species that is clearly unable to use its thin quantities of wisdom to solve the problems it is causing (for itself and other species) with its remarkably thick intelligence.

#Australia and #climate – a book, ‘Environmental Boomerang’ warning in 1973…

So, when climate change burst onto the scene in 1988, I doubt too many hardcore environmentalists were surprised.(1)

Carbon dioxide gets a few pages in the 1972 ‘Limits to Growth’ book, which went through numerous printings.  The earliest Australian book I have been able to find (so far!) is this –

‘Environmental Boomerang’, published in 1973 by Jacaranda Press, who may well now be owned by Wiley. was written by Len Webb, a giant of Australian rainforest science, and by all accounts all-round good bloke.  His account of the state of the knowledge at the time is fair and succinct (see below)

1973 environmental boomerang cover

Here’s the relevant bit-

1973 env boomerang page 63

1973 env boomerang page 64

In 1974 a senior Australian civil servant asked some scientists to look into climate change.  ‘Nothing to see here’ came the answer.  Then, the following year a more formal request was made, more work done and ‘probably nothing to see here’ came back in 1976.  Of which more another time…

(1) Personally, in 1982 I remember my class teacher talking about some television show that talked of atmospheric pollution lasting 1500 years.

For “success”? Timing and conformity as key. Barry Jones, #Keynes and #climate

Barry Jones was the Australian Science Minister between 1983 and 1990, and a key figure in the coming of climate awareness to that country.  He is also a pretty smart guy (didn’t help him as a politician, naturlich).

barry jones timing is everything

Keynes said something different but similar –


We needed to be transruptive [another of my shoddy neologisms], but we weren’t.  Now we get to watch it (habitable planet, formal freedoms) all judder and spasm on a jagged downward trajectory, a kind of horizontally mirrored Keeling curve….

To quote myself (cough cough) from Facebook – Herd species. “Had to be, or else you’d get eaten by a sabre-tooth tiger or whatever. Stone age brains in space age bodies in a carbon (c)age of our own devising… Oh well. #funwhileitlasted

Propaganda for beginners – Australian government pre-Kyoto conference

So, at the September 1997  “South Pacific Forum” in the Cook Islands some of the locals/hosts were mildly peeved that Australia was opposing emissions reductions.

Ms McDonald, who headed the greenhouse task force in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, last week took on officials from Pacific island countries who feared their low-lying atolls will be submerged next century by rising sea levels.

Some of the islanders accused her of insensitivity to their plight when she argued that Australia should not be forced to reduce its greenhouse emissions along with other developed countries.

However, Ms McDonald said rather than singling out Australia, island countries should urge developing countries such as India and China to agree to play a role in reducing greenhouse emissions.

Skehan, C. (1997) The Woman With A Global Mission Sydney Morning Herald 23rd September


But the true brilliance is what she does next, once she has been appointed “Environment Ambassador.”  Following on Johnnie Howard smearing Labor as “anti-jobs” she pins green groups.

“Underscoring a loss of political bipartisanship on the issue, Mr Howard said the Federal Labor Opposition and the NSW Labor Government were increasingly adopting an anti-jobs stand.
Ms McDonald said she hoped to liaise with a range of interests on the greenhouse issue.
“We have always been willing to meet the environment lobby, but unfortunately in recent months many groups have been unwilling to enter into a dialogue,” she said.”
Skehan, C. (1997) The Woman With A Global Mission Sydney Morning Herald 23rd September

If they DO meet, they are used as a fig-leaf (“our decisions are always based on consulting stakeholders such as….”) and if they DON’T they are “unwilling to enter into a dialogue.” Such are the simple tactics that power uses to defend itself…  People who advocate “sleeping with the enemy” perhaps need to consider this.


As someone commented on facebook in response to an earlier version of this post – “You’ve got it. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. With neoliberals you lose every which way, since they have a simplistic agenda that won’t brook compromise (ie the art of the politically possible) but understand how to snooker and traduce their opponents in what passes for public discourse. ”