28 July 2015
by Giles Parkinson

Abbott Coalition kills hopes of ambitious climate change targets

The Abbott Coalition government has further entrenched its position against any ambitious climate change targets, describing the recommended trajectory by the Climate Change Authority as “staggering”, and continuing its three-word slogan attack against Labor’s policies, and the prospect of more wind farms.

Abbott has already delayed the release of Australia’s post 2020 targets until August, potentially slowing down what others have described as good progress in the lead up to the key climate change talks in Paris later this year.

But any hopes that the proposal will be beyond the bare minimum that the Abbott government thinks it can get away with have again been dashed by comments from Abbott and his team over the last few days.

Abbott on Monday declared that Labor’s endorsement of an emissions trading scheme and a 50 per cent renewable energy target was an “electricity tax scam” that would hit consumers for decades.

“Then you’ve got this massive and unnecessary commitment to renewables which will cause a massive overbuild of wind farms, all of which has to be paid for by the consumers,” Abbott told reporters. Abbott’s dislike of wind farms is well known.

His comments follow those of environment minister Greg Hunt over the weekend, when he described the emission reduction trajectories put forward by the CCA as “staggering”.

The CCA – an independent body created by Labor that Abbott and Hunt have tried to dismantle – suggested that Australia needed a target of a 30 per cent cut by 2025, and suggested a range of 40 per cent to 60 per cent cuts by 2030. The Coalition has tried to ignore the CCA’s reports, and it bypassed the authority when conducting its review of the RET. It picked its own controversial panel and made no response to the CCA’s findings.

There is little love lost between the two groups. The CCA has branded the current 5 per cent reduction target for 2020 as totally inadequate and suggests Australia should have a target of at least 19 per cent, noting that it has a large overhang of Kyoto credits.

Hunt said the CCA targets are unmatched by any other country in the world. That’s not quite true. This first graph shows the CCA’s 2025 targets (compared to 2005 levels) and how it matches with other countries.

And this shows how the 2020 and 2030 targets match. As CCA chair Bernie Fraser said Australia is starting a long way behind, courtesy of doing virtually nothing in the last 20 years.

The Abbott government, however, is holding on to the Kyoto targets as “proof” that Australia is doing as much, if not more than other countries. It is the only developed country not to have done so, in what seems to be advance warning of Australia’s intransigent position at the Kyoto talks of 1997.

“Not only have we met and beaten our Kyoto I targets, but we are well on track to meeting and beating our Kyoto II targets,” said Hunt, who once described Australia’s emission reduction efforts to date as Australia’s “gift to the world.”

As Clive Hamilton, a director of the CCA, pointed out last week, Australia has done virtually nothing to meet its Kyoto targets. From 1990 to 2012 Australia’s emissions from all sources except land-use change and forestry grew by 28 per cent. “Australia did very little but still met its Kyoto target. It could hardly miss,” Hamilton noted.

The Coalition, which has removed the carbon price and slashed the large-scale renewable energy target, has also directed the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to cease financing wind farms and rooftop solar.

Labor was urged to adopt a 50 per cent emissions reduction target along with its 50 per cent renewables target, but ducked the issue. It has, however, pledged support for the CCA, the CEFC and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

One Victorian Coalition MP, Sarah Henderson, has broken ranks on that position, saying the CEFC should be encouraged to support offshore wind and battery storage technology. She said voters in her electorate were “extremely supportive” of renewable energy. Polls indicate that support is country-wide.

Meanwhile, the Murdoch papers have fallen in lock-step with the government on Labor’s climate policies.

In an editorial on Saturday, The Australian lamented the “economic illiteracy” of “digital first” publications.

“Labor is cheered on by a range of economically illiterate pundits in “digital first” publications and the twittersphere,” it said, adding, apparently in the hope of a Copenhagen repeat in the UN climate talks: “Perhaps agreement on targets will disappear after November’s Paris summit.”

Abbott on Monday suggested that a 50% renewable energy target would cost $60 billion. He didn’t explain where he got that number. But like the rest of the world, even if it were true, it would pale into comparison to the fossil fuel subsidies.

According to the IMF, Australia’s subsidy to this sector to expected be around $A41 billion in 2015, or around 2% of GDP. Its estimate of global fossil fuel subsidies amount to more than $5 trillion a year.

Abbott didn’t stop there though. He said the cut to the large-scale renewable energy target to 33,000GWh from 41,000GWh still meant that Australia would have 23.5 per cent renewable energy by 2020 (including rooftop solar).

“That is more than enough,” he said. “The ETS …. might as well be called an electricity tax scam because that is what it is, an electricity tax scam that will be scamming the consumers of Australia for years and years and decades after it was to be put into place.”

Labor’s 50 per cent renewables target though, will not be met just through the mechanism of the “renewable energy target”. It will also likely include policies such as energy efficiency incentives, and closures of coal-fired generators, or even continued financing by the likes of the CEFC to create new asset classes.

The ACT has shown the way on how a 90 per cent renewable energy target can remain an “aspiration”, but can be supported by effective policies that create certainty for investment. And it will also be done with no net cost to consumers. But it can get away with that, because there is no fossil fuel industry (apart from the federal lobbyists) in the ACT.