“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
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)
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.
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.
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 refused 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.