Energy Policy Captive To Lobbyists And 'Mad Ideologues', Tim Flannery Says

The Guardian

Five years after the Climate Commission’s axing, its former head says there has been progress as well as setbacks
‘We’re being held hostage at a federal level,’ Tim Flannery told Guardian Australia. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe for the Guardian
Five years since the Abbott government scrapped the Climate Commission, the environmentalist Tim Flannery says our energy policy remains hostage to lobbyists, political self-interest and “mad ideologues”.
But the organisation Flannery helped start from the ashes of Abbott’s climate bonfire, the Climate Council, says that attitudes have shifted substantially since 2013 – at least those outside federal parliament.
“We’re being held hostage at a federal level,” Flannery told Guardian Australia.
“It has been a disgrace. Our failures are the failures of a small group of politicians who are supposed to be acting in the national interest. Instead, they’re using energy policy as a cudgel, they’re listening to paid lobbyists and doing their bidding.”
“I don’t want to say any more because I’ll just get angry.”
Flannery was the chief commissioner of the Climate Commission, a government-backed research body whose remit was to communicate reliable and authoritative information about climate change.
The commission lasted just two years, and was almost immediately scrapped by the Abbott government after the 2013 election. Flannery and other commissioners decided to subsequently launch the Climate Council as an independent not-for-profit body.
“We raised $1.5m in 10 days,” recalls Amanda McKenzie, the council’s chief executive.
“At the time we went out, quite on a limb, because we had no funding. We said we will go ahead if the public backs us. It was the largest crowdfunding campaign in Australian history. Thousands of people were contributing.”
“I look back on that time as a really hopeful moment, thinking the community is behind us on this. More and more Australians are concerned about the issue. That concern has elevated over time.
“We had no idea that we would still be, five years later, battling for any action on an federal government level.”
Flannery points out that Australia’s emissions continue to increase “at a time when they need to be going down”. The federal government has abandoned any commitment to meeting the Paris emissions reduction targets. The new prime minister, Scott Morrison, famously used a lump of coal as a prop in parliament.
Scott Morrison with a lump of coal during Question Time in the House of Representatives. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP
That state of affairs might cause some to question whether any progress had been made during the past five years. But putting federal politics to one side, both Flannery and McKenzie say strides have been made by individuals, local and state governments.
“I think [without the Climate Council] we’d be a long way behind in terms of public awareness, we’d be a huge distance behind,” Flannery said. “Those who were seeking to mislead would be [not held to account].”
“I’m immensely proud of it and I think we’ve made a huge difference”.
Flannery said the Climate Council initially sought to be a research and information body, filling the gap left by the disbanding of the commission. But in recent years it has taken on a broader remit, actively running programs to support action.
“We decided we needed to expand our remit, we’re running out of time to deal with this issue and we needed to pull out all stops.
“I think we’ve got to use every leverage point we can at the moment because we’re running out of time. We need to find those programs that work, get involved and start leading them.”
One of those programs, which Flannery says he is “most proud of”, is a partnership that supports local governments to transition to clean energy.
“What we didn’t realise [five years ago] was that state governments would step into the vacuum and that local governments would step into the vacuum,” McKenzie said.
In five years, the council has released more than 100 publications.
“If we had failed, it would not only have set back the entire climate change discussion in Australia, it would have given the conservatives an opportunity to say how little everyone cares about climate change,” Flannery said.
“There will be a need for the Climate Council I think for decades, because the problem isn’t going to be solved for decades. It’s a pretty tough thing to be pushing against this and find you’re constantly going backwards. But I’m nothing if not stubborn.”


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