Climate Policy’s House of Cards

Clive Hamilton, Charles Sturt University

There are the pragmatists willing to compromise to get at least something, and then there are the idealists who stick to their principles and end up with nothing. Or so the argument goes.

This tired old binary has been used by various pundits to frame the division within the Climate Change Authority that saw the publication of a majority report and, last week, a minority report authored by Professor David Karoly and myself.

It’s all very noble, the pundits have been writing, to stick to what climate science demands, but in the real world of hard politics what we need now is a way through the political impasse. They praise the majority report because that is what it purports to give us. A solution.

So Ross Gittins, the Sydney Morning Herald’s economics editor, hailed the majority report as a potential breakthrough, ‘a bridge to a bipartisan climate change policy’. He is not one of those (like us, he implies) who believes ‘if you can’t have it all, you’re better off having nothing’.

Richard Denniss, chief economist at the centrist think tank the Australia Institute, believes the majority report has given the Coalition ‘a way out of the climate policy cul-de-sac’.

And after giving ‘the purist position’ a pat on the head, the Saturday Paper’s Mike Seccombe decodes the policy ‘toolkit’ of the majority report as the mechanism ‘by which the government might realistically address’ the biggest problem Australia faces.

But let’s stop and think about the pundits’ story, the political strategy that might allow the carefully crafted toolkit of the majority report to become a bipartisan way out of the climate policy morass.

The story goes like this. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull really wants to do something about climate change. But because of the power of conservatives in his party room he has to find a policy approach that will be both effective and somehow get past the sceptics.

Luckily for him (and his former environment minister Greg Hunt), the Climate Change Authority, with six new members, was in the process of reviewing Australia’s climate policy. Now it has produced a report showing how, with a bit of subterfuge, the government can make a start on a decent climate policy.

The majority report recommends keeping Tony Abbott’s Direct Action policy (which would helpfully provide political cover for the Prime Minister) but ‘enhances’ it. Instead of Labor’s big bang emissions trading policy that scared the electorate, it puts forward a suite of sensible measures.

They include a benign-looking emissions trading scheme in the electricity sector and a hybrid-ETS in other energy sectors, although in disguised form. And the words ‘emissions trading scheme’ have been banished.

The pundits could detect the genius of the majority report’s approach. It keeps enough of existing policy to prevent the backbench sceptics flaring up but it also overlaps sufficiently with the Labor Party’s platform that the Opposition will go along with it and so vote for it in the Senate.

After the nonthreatening toolkit has been pushed through parliament the Prime Minister would be able to ramp up the level of ambition of Australia’s emission cuts, and the momentum would (somehow) drown out his critics.

Hey Presto! We have the holy grail of a bipartisan climate policy that will make a difference.

But how credible is this story, the one that gives the pundits confidence that the majority report offers a real chance of a breakthrough? It asks us to believe a lot.

Firstly, it assumes that Malcolm Turnbull’s sceptical backbench is too dopey to realize that the strategy is a bait and switch. (The same goes for his Coalition partners – that piece of straw clamped between Barnaby Joyce’s teeth is a giveaway.) Mike Seccombe thinks they are, describing the majority report as ‘clever’ because it hides what needs to be done.

Second, does Malcolm Turnbull really want to do something about climate change? Since he became leader (possible only after signing a commitment to the National Party never to introduce an emissions trading scheme), the evidence is hardly encouraging. After all, he wants to abolish the Australian Renewable Energy Authority, and he did nothing when the CSIRO gutted its climate science capability.

Third, if he is serious, is the Prime Minister willing to spend his political capital pushing his climate change agenda through the Coalition party rooms? Perhaps more to the point after his election set-back, does he have any political capital to spend? Many commentators say ‘no’ and the ill-disguised challenges to his authority in recent weeks seem to confirm it.

Fourth, will the Labor Party decide that it’s in its interests to go along with the secret plan and give it bipartisan support? The signs are not positive. Labor’s climate change spokesperson Mark Butler praised our minority report. (Its suite of recommendations, including the targets we propose, are similar to Labor’s platform.)

Worse for the strategy, Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg’s reception of the majority report was somewhere between cold and dismissive. He’s new to the job, so perhaps the cunning plan has not yet been explained to him. After all, if he were in on it, wouldn’t he have welcomed the report and said the government would give it serious consideration?

The pragmatic pundits have invested their hopes in this delicate series of hypotheticals, viz., sceptical backbenchers are too dopey to realize what’s going on, Turnbull is still the old Malcolm, he has a lot of political capital, he will spend it on climate change, and Labor will go along with it all.

It seems to me that in their desire to see Australia have a serious climate policy the pundits are victims of wishful thinking. Their desire is noble, but maybe they need a bucket of cold political reality tipped over them.

I might note here that when at times I have expressed doubts about whether this elaborate chain of hypotheticals would hold together, I have been assured, with nudges and winks, that others had inside information that made them confident it would all unfold according to plan.

It was on the basis of this particular reading of the political tea-leaves that David Karoly and I were expected to put our names to recommendations that soft-pedalled on the science. I had reached the view that the realists’ story was in fact a fantasy, and it seemed to me that by signing I would be downplaying the science (and the Authority’s own earlier work) in exchange for a big slice of pie in the sky.

Now the pundits are saying that by putting forward an alternative set of recommendations based on the science we are being ‘purists’ or, in Richard Denniss’s phrase, more interested in protest than progress. All because we no longer believed in their hypothetical house of cards.

In a strong sense, however, the question of which political story you believe is a side issue. The pundits are entitled to advocate policies based on their judgements about what may or may not get the numbers in the current parliament. But as members of a Commonwealth statutory authority, with a legislated obligation to provide independent advice based on the best scientific and economic evidence, we are not.

David Karoly and I take this obligation seriously, and have done so since we were appointed over four years ago. In its first three years, the Authority built a fine reputation for its independence, with a series of excellent reports signed off by all members, often after sharp differences of opinion had been resolved through a consensus process overseen by Bernie Fraser.

In the legislation establishing the Authority, its independence is underlined. In the second reading speech at the time of the Authority’s formation in 2012 the Minister told Parliament:

‘The authority will be independent from government. … This means that climate change policy will be directed by evidence and facts, rather than fear and political opportunism. It will take the politics out of the debate.’

It is the pundits’ role to put the politics into the debate. But when they criticise us for refusing to do the same they are saying that statutory authorities should be regarded as merely another player in the political game. And that is very sad.

[This article is also published in the Canberra Times.]

The Conversation

Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics, Centre For Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics (CAPPE), Charles Sturt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Climate Change Authority report: a dissenting view

Clive Hamilton and David Karoly, University of Melbourne

As Members of the Climate Change Authority who have participated fully in the Special Review of Australia’s Climate Goals and Policies, we reached the conclusion, after much consideration, that we could not in good conscience lend our names to its report, published last week.

Rather than resign from the Authority we decided to write a minority report. Here we present edited extracts from our report, which is released today.

The basis of our disagreement with the majority report is its failure to recognise the importance of the constraint put on all future emissions-reduction targets and policies by Australia’s carbon budget. The carbon budget is the total emissions that Australia can release between now and 2050 while still contributing its fair share in holding the global temperature rise to less than 2℃ – a key goal of the Paris climate agreement negotiated last December.

The majority report should, but does not, address the relationship between its recommendations and Australia’s carbon budget, consistent with a fair and equitable national contribution to the global carbon budget.

This is all the more regrettable because the requirement to do so is embedded in the Special Review’s terms of reference and was analysed in the First Report of the Special Review released in April 2015 (before the appointment of six new Members to the Authority in October 2015).

The budget constraint

In 2014 the Authority recommended an Australian emissions budget of 10.1 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases for the period 2013-2050. On this basis, it advised that Australia should set an emissions-reduction trajectory for 2030 in the range of 45-65% below 2005 levels. Contrast that with the current 26-28% target set by the Abbott government.

Against the constraints of the carbon budget, the majority report accepts – explicitly in some places, implicitly in others – the government’s current target.

But accepting this less ambitious target for 2030 is consistent neither with the Authority’s own advice to government, nor with Australia’s commitment under the Paris Agreement to play its role in holding warming below 2℃.

The graph below shows the carbon budget for Australia put forward by the Climate Change Authority in its earlier report. (The budget is the area under the curve.)

The embedded pie chart shows the sliver of emissions that would remain to cover the 20-year period after 2030 if there is no change from the 26-28% target. More than 90% of Australia’s carbon budget to 2050 would be used up by 2030. Australia’s emissions would have to decline precipitously and reach net zero by 2035.

Keeping Australia’s current emissions targets in place would leave a huge amount of work to do after 2030.
Author provided

Such a dramatic reduction would be impossible to achieve. So the current target of 26-28% lacks credibility because it is wholly inconsistent with Australia’s international obligations. If pursued it is likely to lead to a policy crisis within a decade or less.

Political independence

In our view, the failure of the majority report to make this clear to government and the public contravenes the Authority’s legislated obligation to deliver independent advice and to recommend measures that are “environmentally effective” and based on science.

We believe that the effect of the majority report will be to sanction further delay and a slow pace of action, with serious consequences for the nation. Those consequences include either very severe and costly emissions cuts in the mid-to-late 2020s, or alternatively a repudiation of Australia’s international commitments, and free-riding on the efforts of the rest of the world.

As we see it, the recommendations of the majority report are framed to suit a particular assessment of the prevailing political circumstances. We believe it is inappropriate and often counterproductive to attempt to second-guess political negotiations, especially for a new and uncertain parliament.

The unduly narrow focus of the majority report, seemingly based on a reading from a political crystal ball, has ruled out policies, such as a strengthened renewables target and stronger land clearing restrictions, that have a proven capacity to respond most effectively to the nation’s climate change goals.

Policy recommendations

At the centre of the majority report’s recommendations is the retention of the current Direct Action policy as the basis for further action. Its two pillars are the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) and its incorporated Safeguard Mechanism, which sets an upper limit on emissions from major polluters.

The report also recommends a new emissions trading scheme for electricity generation, based on an emissions-intensity baseline. Such a scheme would have lower price rises than the kind of cap-and-trade scheme favoured everywhere else in the world, and which Australia would have now if not for the Abbott government. After the rancour that engulfed the carbon price, the intensity-based scheme is presumably seen as more appealing to nervous politicians.

The majority report downplays the drawbacks of emissions-intensity schemes and the Safeguard Mechanism. There is not space to discuss them here, but we would like to comment on the flaws in the ERF because the majority report recommends that it be hugely expanded.

Flaws in the ERF

Under an expanded ERF policy, the cost to the federal budget would increase sharply, and even more so if Australia adopted tougher emissions targets in line with the science. Using the ERF in this way would be, in Professor Ross Garnaut’s words, “an immense drain on the budget”.

We believe it is unwise to make Australia’s climate policy hostage to disputes over fiscal policy.

As a rule, the replacement of the widely accepted “polluter pays” principle with the ERF’s “pay the polluter” principle is bad economics, bad ethics and bad policy. The practical drawbacks include the need for an expert bureaucracy to evaluate each prospective project and then to monitor, over several years, each successful project to ensure that the promised emissions reductions actually happen.

There are also serious and continuing concerns about the issue of “additionality”. Under the ERF, it is hard to know whether the Commonwealth is wasting money by paying for emissions reductions that would have taken place anyway – that is, projects that are not additional. Bear in mind that businesses plan energy-saving projects all the time, so why wouldn’t they try to get a subsidy if one is on offer?

Surveys show that a large majority of Australians want stronger action to reduce Australia’s emissions. The role of the Climate Change Authority is to advise on how that desire can be realised, in a way that is consistent with the best scientific and economic evidence.

The full minority report can be read here.

The Conversation

Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics, Centre For Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics (CAPPE) and David Karoly, Professor of Atmospheric Science, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Climate Change Authority’s gamble on political pragmatism

Frank Jotzo, Australian National University

The Climate Change Authority’s latest report outlining a recommended climate policy “toolkit” is a reflection of what is seen by many as politically feasible in Australia now. But it is piecemeal and lacks a vision for the longer-term policy framework needed to get Australia on track to a low-carbon economy.

After years of political fighting over carbon pricing, a conventional emissions trading scheme – the instrument of choice in many other countries – is widely seen as politically impossible in Australia. And both major parties are scared of any policy that is seen as raising electricity prices.

The CCA seems to take this political situation as a starting point, and makes a series of judgements about specific policy options. The intent clearly is to help policy progress in the medium term. But it risks locking in a policy suite that will not deliver much, or may cost too much.

If the CCA’s recommendations are misconstrued as being ambitious, we could end up with policy that falls far short of these recommendations. And if its political judgements are off the mark, the CCA’s specific recommendations could become an obstacle for the government’s 2017 policy review.

Electricity intensity scheme

The CCA’s “toolkit” suggests a mix of different policy instruments for different sectors of the economy, with quite specific suggestions in some areas and less detail in others.

For the power sector, the recommendation is for an “emissions intensity scheme”, designed to create a carbon price signal in electricity production while limiting the effect on power prices. This is its main selling-point: it would result in less price uplift than a standard emissions trading scheme or carbon tax.

The flipside is that this does not encourage households and businesses to save energy, and so without other interventions it will be less efficient.

Another serious downside is that the government earns no money from the scheme because all permits are given out for free to industry. So there is no source of income to cut other taxes and help low-income households, as there was under the Gillard government’s carbon price.

Such a power sector scheme is in line with what Labor took to July’s election, so there may be hope for bipartisanship. It is a scheme you choose if you are afraid of political backlash over power prices, and if you are prepared to forego fiscal revenue.

Its effectiveness will depend on its credibility and ambition. The CCA envisages it as a stand-alone scheme without trading links (except possibly sales of “white certificates” from energy efficiency schemes). The CCA recommends baselines going linearly to zero before 2050, which could drive significant change in power generation. But whatever trajectory is mandated is certain to be economically less efficient than a standard emissions trading scheme with flexibility between sectors and over time.

Renewables, innovation and coal exit

The report notes that uncertainty over the future of an emissions intensity scheme “could affect investor confidence” and cause cost increases and delays, and that this is an argument for continued support for renewable energy deployment policies. However it recommends that the Renewable Energy Target not be continued beyond the present commitment to new investments until 2020 and support for existing plants until 2030.

On innovation for low-emissions technologies, the CCA calls for government support both through debt and equity funding, as well as public funding for research, development and demonstration. The former is currently done through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the latter by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). This recommendation runs counter the government’s present plan – possibly supported by Labor – to withdraw A$1.3 billion in funding from ARENA.

Mechanisms to facilitate closure of high emissions power stations have received much support in the debate over the last year. The idea of a regulated closure scheme is rejected by the CCA, on the basis of modelling of a version of the proposal that would not allow any flexibility. The proposal for a market-based scheme to help shut down the highest-emitting power stations is mentioned only in the CCA’s accompanying electricity report, where it is dismissed without analysis.

Emissions Reduction Fund and more complexity

Outside the power sector the CCA proposes evolving the existing Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), a patchy scheme of subsidies paid to businesses for projects presumed to cut emissions.

It suggests that industries that burn fossil fuels or otherwise release greenhouse gases should be covered by an ERF with “enhanced safeguards”. Companies that exceed a specific benchmark emissions intensity (falling over time) would have to buy emissions credits, while companies can earn credits for projects that meet the ERF’s criteria. But companies that remain below the benchmark and do not engage in projects would not be involved at all and have no incentive to cut emissions.

The government would continue to buy credits from land sector projects. This means continued payments of taxpayer dollars to businesses, and continued doubts over whether the emissions reductions are real.

For energy efficiency, yet another approach is recommended, by harmonising existing state-based “white certificate” schemes that award credits for energy savings, and then feeding those credits back into the electricity supply scheme. Selective efficiency standards are also supported, along with emissions standards for cars and perhaps trucks.

Setting our sights higher

The CCA’s report focuses heavily on Australia’s existing emissions target, of a 26-28% reduction on 2005 levels by 2030. But in reality, Australia will have to do more as part of the Paris Agreement ratcheting process. The existing target is too weak to meet the Paris deal’s global warming limit of below 2℃. The goal must be a net zero-emission economy around mid-century.

The more hodge-podge our climate policy regime, the weaker the signals to promote investment in modern, clean technologies. The incrementalism of the CCA’s proposed approach contrasts starkly with the need to drive a fundamental transformation to a low-carbon economy, and is at odds with the Authority’s own recommended carbon budget.

An apt comparison is with Australia’s economic reforms of the 1980s. The road to success was fundamental change such as floating the dollar and dismantling tariffs, not timid tinkering. Today, neither side of politics shows such vision or determination. So it is all the more important that independent bodies raise everyone’s sights to the larger possibilities.

The CCA’s judgements

The “policy toolkit” report is not supported by two of the CCA’s board members, Clive Hamilton and David Karoly, who have made it known that they will issue a dissenting minority report.

Under its previous board the CCA provided strongly principled advice for ambitious climate policy, such as its recommendations for emissions targets and a carbon budget. A report on climate policy instruments that put principle over political circumstance would almost inevitably recommend a comprehensive carbon pricing scheme as its core.

The hope for this week’s report is that it might help achieve some convergence on climate policy, albeit at a lower denominator, and encourage the government to embark on reform.

The initial signals from the government are not positive. Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg was quick to distance the government from the report. He said that there are no plans to change baselines for the “safeguards”, which would be required for the main aspects of the CCA plan.

Meanwhile the CCA has ruled out a number of options, making it harder for the government to pick up these options if it wanted to.

The pragmatic gamble could backfire.

The Conversation

Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Climate Change Authority suggests emissions trading but no new climate targets

Michael Hopkin, The Conversation

An “intensity-based” emissions trading scheme for the electricity sector, to begin in 2018, is among a “toolkit” of policies recommended by the Climate Change Authority in a report setting out how Australia can meet its obligations under the Paris climate treaty.

The scheme, similar to a plan proposed by Labor at the last federal election, would set “baselines” for greenhouse emissions per unit of electricity generation, awarding credits to generators who emit less. The report recommended that these baselines be steadily reduced to zero “well before 2050”.

But it stopped short of recommending a planned phase-out of the most polluting power sources such as brown coal power stations, concluding that this will not be a cost-effective way to decarbonise the sector.

“The final composition of the electricity sector would be a matter for various electricity companies,” said Climate Change Authority chair Wendy Craik, although she added that the new scheme would help to incentivise renewable energy.

The report also recommended applying baselines to other emissions-intensive industries such as cement, steel and natural gas, under the government’s existing “safeguard mechanism” which penalises emitters who overshoot these limits.

The report also calls for five-yearly reviews of Australia’s climate policies, beginning in 2022 – a similar timetable to the five-year reviews under which nations are required to review and strengthen their climate pledges under the Paris agreement. The government is already set to review the effectiveness of its existing climate policies next year.

The report does not recommend any strengthening of Australia’s current emissions target, which calls for a 26-28% reduction in greenhouse emissions on 2005 levels by 2030, or of the Renewable Energy Target, which was scaled back last year.

It also recommends continuing with the government’s A$2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund, which “reverse-auctions” taxpayer funds for emissions-reducing projects.

Craik said that Australia needs a wide range of policies to drive down emissions in different sectors of the economy.

But the report has revealed divisions within the Authority, with members Clive Hamilton and David Karoly reportedly planning to issue their own dissenting report in the coming days.

Last July, the Authority recommended much deeper emissions cuts of 40-60% on 2000 levels by 2030. But in December Australia’s more modest target was enshrined in the Paris agreement.

Craik said the Authority stands by its earlier report, despite it having been ignored by the government, and that the new report is “focused on the policies the government might use to hit its targets”.

She said that talk of ramping up Australia’s emissions targets is premature while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is still working to calculate the carbon budget associated with the Paris agreement’s most ambitious goal of restricting global warming to 1.5℃. But she added that the policies recommended are designed to be “scalable” in future.

Climate Institute chief executive John Connor said the report’s recommendations “neglect a key fundamental of climate science” by failing to endorse deeper emissions cuts before 2030.

“If we emit more now, we have to emit much less later in order to keep within the overall temperature limits of 1.5-2℃ that the government agreed to in Paris,” he said.

The Climate Council also criticised the recommendations as “woefully inadequate”.

“Accepting Australia’s current 2030 emissions-reduction targets rather than the action required to limit global warming to less than 2℃ means the report’s recommendations will not protect Australians from dangerous climate change,” said council member Will Steffen.

The current targets would use up 84% of Australia’s overall carbon budget to meet the 2℃ target by 2030, he said.

Hitting the target?

Dylan McConnell, a research fellow at the Melbourne Energy Institute, said the suggestion of a baseline-and-credit scheme was unsurprising, as “that’s the direction everyone has been rowing in for the past 18 months or so”.

He said the report outlines ways in which the electricity sector can significantly cut its emissions by 2050, but none that is in line with meeting the Paris agreement’s goal of keeping global warming below 2℃.

To do that, Australia would need to emit less than 15g of CO₂ per kilowatt hour of electricity in 2050 – compared with 800g today. But the scenarios outlined in the report would fall well short of this, he said.

A baseline-and-credit scheme, unlike a carbon tax, would avoid passing on significant costs to consumers. But that would also mean consumers will be less likely to change their own behaviour and try to use less electricity, McConnell said.

He added that Australia’s current emissions targets, like those of many other nations, are not consistent with the 2℃ warming goal, and that any delay to strengthening these targets will make the job tougher still. “Kicking the can down the road always makes it harder,” he said.

RMIT University energy researcher Alan Pears said the gap between the politics and the science is “enormous and widening”.

“All we can hope for really in the next few years, regardless of who is in power, is to put in place the mechanisms for carbon pricing or trading, and see the beginnings with very low carbon prices and lots of generous exemptions,” he said.

The Conversation

Michael Hopkin, Environment + Energy Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Ignored by the government, shrunk by resignations – where now for Australia’s Climate Change Authority?

Clive Hamilton

Bernie Fraser’s resignation as chairman of Australia’s Climate Change Authority has left many wondering what is left of it and what its future might be.

Established three years ago as part of the climate change package negotiated by the previous parliament’s Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, the Authority was formed to serve as the principal source of climate policy advice to the federal government, particularly on the issue of emissions targets. Championed by the then Greens deputy leader Christine Milne, it was modelled closely on Britain’s Committee on Climate Change.

The Authority is legislated to have nine part-time members, including the Chief Scientist ex officio. When the Abbott government was elected two years ago it expressed its intention to abolish the Authority along with the rest of the Labor government’s climate policy architecture.

Unlike the former Climate Commission, which had a public education role (and since losing government backing has morphed into the independent Climate Council), the Authority was established by legislation as a statutory authority.

The government could not obtain sufficient support in the Senate to abolish the Authority. In particular, Palmer United Party leader Clive Palmer struck a deal with the government in which he would support the carbon tax repeal but not the abolition of the Climate Change Authority.

With the Authority saved, Palmer said he wanted the government to instruct it to assess whether Australia should have an emissions trading system at some time in the future, and what conditions should trigger its introduction, taking special note of the policies of Australia’s major trading partners.

The government agreed to Palmer’s request to extend funding for the Authority. Continued funding was essential in order to sustain the Authority’s secretariat, based in Melbourne, which at its peak reached around 35 but now stands at around 25. On its formation the Authority attracted some of the best and brightest to work for it.

The job at hand

As a result of the Palmer deal the Authority is now conducting a major review of an emissions trading system (the kind of system that would have entered into force on July 1, 2015 under Labor’s Carbon Price Mechanism), with a draft report due on November 30. The final report is due, after public consultation on the draft, by June 30, 2016.

While this work is important, the Authority’s most significant project was its 2014 Targets and Progress Review, which recommended that Australia should set an emissions reduction target of 19% below 2000 levels by 2020, and cut emissions by 40-60% by 2030.

This year the Authority revisited its recommendations after the Abbott government set up a committee within the Prime Minister’s department to advise it on a target for Australia to take to the crucial United Nations Paris climate summit in December. The Authority published a brief report reiterating its earlier recommended targets, adding that Australia should cut its emissions by 30% by 2025.

The Government subsequently announced it would pledge to cut Australia’s emissions by 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2030, which for comparison with the Authority’s recommendation is equivalent to 19-22% below 2000 levels.


Although the government could not act on its wish to abolish the Authority, it made it clear that it would not listen to its advice (although it does seem to have been influenced by its recommendations on vehicle emissions standards and international permits). In this situation, four members of the Authority last year notified environment minister Greg Hunt of their resignations.

The other four appointed members (including myself) took the view that the Authority exists to serve the parliament, as well as the government, and as long as the parliament wants it to continue and the Authority can do useful work, they would carry on in their roles.

They also took the view that the Authority’s reports play an important role in providing independent advice to the public. This has proved true with the Authority’s recommended emission reduction targets being viewed widely as the benchmark against which the government’s targets should be evaluated.

Such a situation of course sets up tensions between the Authority and the government. Fraser’s job, as chairman, of liaising with Hunt became increasingly difficult, an issue perhaps illustrated by the story in the Daily Telegraph that claimed the Authority’s modelling gave a projected cost of Labor’s carbon policy of A$600 billion – a claim that the Authority rejected.

Bernie Fraser’s extraordinary stature as a public servant (he served with distinction as Treasury Secretary and Governor of the Reserve Bank) lent authority to the work of the Authority in a way few others could.

His resignation is a blow, yet the work of the Authority will continue.

For more than a year the Government has chosen not to replace the four members who resigned soon after it took office. There is a logic to this – after all, it has said it has no confidence in the Authority, so why spend public funds on new appointments? And perhaps the most relevant question is: who would agree to be appointed by the government in such a situation anyway?

The Conversation

Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics, Centre For Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics (CAPPE)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bernie Fraser quits Climate Change Authority after difficulties with Hunt

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The chairman of the Climate Change Authority, Bernie Fraser, has quit – apparently after a long period of bad relations with Environment Minister Greg Hunt.

It is believed Fraser – who is a former secretary of the Treasury and former governor of the Reserve Bank – had found the minister very difficult to deal with. Hunt was seen as hostile to the authority.

The tension with the minister apparently wore Fraser down.

The government was angry that it could not abolish the authority because of the Senate, but was forced to retain it in negotiations with Clive Palmer.

The authority recently urged emission reduction targets for Australia post-2020 which were much more ambitious than the ones the government subsequently announced for this year’s Paris climate conference.

Fraser’s resignation has left the authority without a quorum, but it has taken legal advice that it can continue its operations. The authority discussed the situation at a meeting on Tuesday.

“Arrangements have been made to ensure the Authority’s work will continue uninterrupted,” the authority said in the short statement announcing Fraser’s resignation. No explanation of the resignation was given.

Professor David Karoly, a member of the authority, has been delegated with responsibility for its official duties.

Four of its nine members quit last year and have not been replaced by the government. Hunt reportedly told the authority that he sent recommended names to the Prime Minister’s Office but nothing had been done.

One of those remaining is the Chief Scientist Ian Chubb whose position is ex officio. His term as Chief Scientist expires in December.

Fraser’s decision – said to have been made reluctantly – came as a surprise to Hunt. It did not follow any specific argument.

Hunt thanked Fraser for his work, in a statement on Tuesday night. “He has had an outstanding career in public service, which I deeply respect and acknowledge,” Hunt said.

“In particular, I thank Mr Fraser for his assistance with the crossbench in the passage of the Emissions Reduction Fund.”

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.