26/02/2019

When The Polls Are Tight The Coalition Pretends To Care About Climate

Fairfax - Nicky Ison*

Scott Morrison with much fanfare has announced the Coalition’s climate policy – the Climate Solution Package. Unfortunately, for those 59 per cent of Australians who according to the Lowy Institute want strong government action on climate change, this announcement is not a climate hit, but rather to borrow the words of Propellerheads and Shirley Bassey, “a joke that is rather sad and just a little bit of history repeating”.
Scott Morrison announces the government\'s climate package at a function in Melbourne. Credit: David Crosling
We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again - every time the polls are tight and an election is coming the Coalition pretends that it cares about climate.  For example, after a decade of refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol, John Howard announced an emissions trading scheme in the lead up to the 2007 election, yet when push came to shove in 2009 the Coalition rolled a leader over it.  Then in 2013, Abbott announced the Emissions Reduction Fund, his alternative to the extremely effective Gillard Clean Energy Future package.  Now in 2019, after toppling a Prime Minister over climate six months ago, Scott Morrison is trying the same old thing.
So what did he announce yesterday? The main commitment was the Climate Solution Fund, a plan to top up Abbott’s ERF with $200 million a year over a decade. Despite its nice name and the many times Morrison claimed that Australia will meet it’s Paris targets in a canter, the reality is that this rebranded Abbott-era policy is anything but a solution to climate change.
From its inception in 2014, the ERF has been the perfect policy for a political party that wants to say it has a climate policy, without actually taking any significant economic or policy measures to address the issue. It works by running competitive rounds to purchase voluntary climate pollution reduction, if reduction is achieved, the organisation planting trees or successfully capturing landfill gas gets paid by the government.
To date, Australian taxpayers have forked out $2.3 billion to purchase 193 million tonnes of carbon pollution reduction. This might sound like a lot, but the scheme doesn’t stand up to closer scrutiny.
A key flaw is that the abatement isn’t necessarily permanent. For example if a bushfire goes through some of the trees planted under the scheme, then taxpayers have paid for nothing.
Second, a number of the projects funded would have gone ahead anyway. Just yesterday it came to light that the ERF has paid mining company Gold Fields to build a gas power plant that the company would have built it regardless of taxpayer funds.
The ultimate proof that this policy doesn’t work, of course, is the fact that Australia’s carbon emissions have gone up year on year while this policy has been in effect, and continue to do so. Yesterday’s announcement is just more of the same. Worse, its actually less than half the funding commitment that Abbott made leading up to the 2013 election.
Apart from rebranded ERF, the government’s policy announcement consisted of a grab-bag of ideas that might not agitate the Coalition’s hard-right faction too much. These include an extra $1.5 billion for some pumped hydro and a transmission line for Tasmania, an electric vehicle strategy, and energy efficiency measures.
While these measures are needed, they are vastly inadequate. The pumped hydro and transmission infrastructure is a tiny drop in the vast ocean of policy support needed to unlock the new renewable energy zones that the Australian Energy Market Operator is planning. The energy efficiency commitments have already been made in their 2015 National Energy Productivity Plan, which hasn’t had any substantial budget commitment in the last four years.
The Morrison government's electric vehicle strategy is unlikely to unsettle its hard right faction. Credit: NG HAN GUAN
And then there is the single most obvious fact that unravels the credibility of the whole policy – there is no acknowledgement that Australia’s single biggest source of carbon pollution is coal.
This is the simplest yardstick to assessing any policy on climate change, and a big moral question going into this election. How we reduce the mining and burning of coal?
It’s a question that the Australians who are already suffering the impacts 1 degree Celsius of warming are asking; that the school kids striking for our climate are asking.
Unfortunately, this policy doesn’t have any answers.
This announcement was the federal Coalition facing up to the inescapable fact that it can’t go into the election looking like, to quote one of its own, “homophobic, anti-women, climate-change deniers”.  However, in the end the world keeps revolving, the Earth keeps warming, emissions keep rising and the Coalition continues to repeat its past mistakes on climate.

*Nicky Ison is the founding director of the Community Power Agency and a research associate at the University of Technology Sydney.

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