Labor’s climate policy: a decent menu, but missing the main course


Nicky Ison, University of Technology Sydney

The federal Labor Party this week released the details of its keenly awaited climate policy package.

With a commitment to cutting climate pollution by 45% on 2005 levels by 2030, compared with the Coalition’s 26-28% target, there was never a doubt that Labor’s policy agenda was going to be more ambitious than the government’s.




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But what exactly does it include, how does it stack up against the scientific imperatives, and what’s missing?

By offering a broad platform, Labor has moved away from a single economy-wide policy solution to climate change, such as a carbon price or emissions trading scheme. Instead, it has opted for a sector-by-sector approach.

This is smart politics and policy. By developing a climate plan for each major sector – industry, electricity, transport, and agriculture and land – it is possible to modernise each sector in a bespoke way, thus driving more innovation and job creation while also cutting carbon pollution.


Emily Nunell/Michael Hopkin/The Conversation

Industry

Labor has taken the politically safe option of expanding the Coalition’s “safeguard mechanism” to lower industrial greenhouse emissions. Under this scheme, big emitters are required to keep their emissions below a prescribed “baseline” level, or to buy offsets if they exceed it.

Labor has lowered the threshold for the scheme, meaning it will now cover all businesses that emit more than 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year (the cutoff is currently 100,000 tonnes). From there, all of these companies will have to lower their emissions by 45% by 2030 on 2005 levels.

Some details are still to be determined, including the precise trajectories of emissions reductions, the use of offsets (which while welcomed by industry, is considered by many people to be highly problematic), and the treatment of emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industries such as aluminium and cement. As with all complex policies, the devil will be in the detail.

Labor’s policy also includes a “Strategic Industries Reserve Fund”, which would support non-commercial technical innovations to help energy-intensive industries reduce their pollution. The world has already seen significant technical advances, from electrification of gas furnaces, to new cement blends.

But few have been developed, trialled or adopted by Australian industry, and they are not yet as cheap as deploying renewables or energy-efficiency solutions in the electricity sector. The new fund would therefore potentially help drive down emissions in the longer term by opening up access to technologies that are not yet cost-competitive.

Electricity

Labor announced its electricity policy in November 2018, and nothing has changed since. It primarily includes a commitment to adopting the Coalition’s now-abandoned National Energy Guarantee and providing an extra A$10 billion to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Other commitments include plans for energy efficiency, hydrogen power, support for community energy, and establishment of a Just Transition Authority. These are worthwhile next steps, but much more needs to be done to replace Australia’s ageing coal-fired power stations with clean, renewable energy.




Read more:
Labor’s policy can smooth the energy transition, but much more will be needed to tackle emissions


Transport

Labor’s transport plans offer a clear chance to deliver economic benefits alongside emissions reductions. It has pledged to introduce vehicle emissions standards equivalent to those in the United States (which are not as strict as those in the European Union).

Australia is the only OECD country that does not have vehicle emissions standards, leaving manufacturers free to dump old, gas-guzzling models on the Australian market. Labor calculates that this costs Australian households an extra A$500 per year in fuel costs, compared with other countries.

Alongside this is also a 50% target for electric vehicles (EVs), requirements for new EV charging infrastructure, and tax breaks for businesses that buy EVs. These are sensible first steps towards driving down transport emissions, which are rising rapidly. Indeed, they are the very least a government should be doing, which makes the fact that after six years in government the Coalition won’t have a plan for electric vehicles until mid-2020 very concerning.




Read more:
Labor’s plan for transport emissions is long on ambition but short on details


Agriculture and land

Agriculture is the most difficult of all sectors in which to reduce emissions; it is therefore unsurprising that the lightest-touch policy approach is in this sector. Federal Labor will want to take advantage of all the departmental support it can to properly tackle this tough nut.

What it has done is commit to two main policies: strengthening the Carbon Farming Initiative, and ensuring that Queensland’s land clearing laws are applied across the country. The land clearing laws particularly will help reverse the current widespread land clearing occurring in New South Wales, in response to the state government weakening these laws. And comes in stark contrast to the federal government’s proposal to pay farmers not to chop down trees.

Carbon accounting

The final prong in Labor’s climate strategy is to rule out any creative accounting tricks. The Coalition government is proposing to use carryover Kyoto credits that are a result of the Howard government negotiating a “good deal” for Australia in 1997. Labor has ruled out using these loopholes as part of meeting Australia’s international commitments and has also promised to do more to help our Pacific neighbours. This support may be little help, however, if Labor doesn’t strengthen its support for holding global warming to 1.5℃.

What’s left out?

This package is a solid, technocratic basis for tackling Australia’s rising greenhouse emissions. Unfortunately, there remain some glaring omissions.

The biggest omission is the lack of a plan to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Fossil fuels, particularly the mining and export of coal are Australia’s biggest contribution to climate change. Yet the ALP’s policy contains only two mentions of coal, nothing on coal exports, and no mention of gas. Labor is evidently still sitting on the fence on the future of the controversial Adani coalmine, and on the question of fossil fuel subsidies more generally.

While it might be politically convenient to let the Coalition tear itself apart over coal, the scientific reality is that to have a hope of limiting warming to 1.5℃, Australia needs to rapidly move away from coal both domestically and for exports. This is not something Labor will be able to ignore for long.

There was also no mention of the need to adapt to existing climate change. Given the recent tribulations of Townsville, the Murray-Darling Basin, and drought-stricken farmers, this should surely be a crucial point of emphasis.




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The policy is also missing the human face of climate change. Labor is choosing to frame climate as an economic and environmental issue. It is both of those things, but it is also a social justice issue. Indeed, those most affected by climate change are some of Australia’s (and the world’s) most disadvantaged people. For instance, the Aboriginal community of Borroloola in the Northern Territory, who are currently fighting fracking on their land, were recently evacuated due to Cyclone Trevor.

Yesterday’s policy announcement was a missed opportunity to put Australians’ health and well-being at the centre of the climate crisis and redress historical injustices by actively supporting Aboriginal and other vulnerable communities like Borroloola to benefit from climate action.

The lack of focus on health is doubly puzzling, given that Labor already announced a Climate and Health Strategy in late 2017, and could easily have drawn attention to it here.

While there is no doubt that Labor is far ahead of the Coalition on climate change, this package is far from what the science (and schoolchildren!) are telling us is needed.

As bushfires, floods, droughts and protests are all set to continue, don’t expect this issue to go away after the federal election.The Conversation

Nicky Ison, Research Associate, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Morrison government approves next step towards Adani coal mine


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Morrison government has ticked off on the groundwater management plan for the proposed Adani coal mine, an important but not a final step for the central Queensland project receiving the go-ahead.

The decision, taken by Environment Minister Melissa Price, comes after intense pressure from Queensland Liberal National Party members, including a threat by senator James McGrath to publicly call for Price’s resignation if she failed to treat the Adani project fairly.




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But the Adani decision will not help Liberals fighting seats in the south, with strong anti-Adani campaigns in some key electorates.

Price said in a statement on Tuesday: “CSIRO and Geoscience Australia have independently assessed the groundwater management plans for the Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Infrastructure project”, and both had confirmed the revised plans met strict scientific requirements.

“Following this independent assessment and the Department of Environment and Energy’s recommendation for approval, I have accepted the scientific advice and therefore approved the groundwater management plans” for the mine and rail infrastructure under Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

She said the decision did not amount to final approval for the project.

It needed further approvals from the Queensland government before constructing could commence. So far only 16 of 25 environmental plans have been finalised or approved by the Commonwealth and Queensland with nine more to be finalised.

The project “must meet further stringent conditions of approval from the Commonwealth before it can begin producing coal,” Price said.

It had “been subject to the most rigorous approval process of any mining project in Australia,” she said.

Resources Minister Matt Canavan, a Queenslander who has been agitating for progress on the mine, said: “I welcome these further approvals. Now we need the state Labor government to stop dragging their heels and get on with the job of creating these jobs.”

Bill Shorten – who, like the government, has been caught between the conflicting imperatives of campaigning in central Queensland and in southern Australia on this issue – said the Queensland government now had to go through its processes.

Labor would “adhere to the law” and be “guided by the science,” he said. “We are not interested in sovereign risk.”

Referring to the pressure within the Coalition, Shorten said: “Trying to pressure people now creates a cloud over a process that didn’t need to be there but for the government’s division in their own ranks”.

Labor’s climate spokesman Mark Butler said that people across Australia would be asking themselves “how can you have any confidence that this decision was made on the merits of the case rather than because of the internal division and chaos in this government?”.




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The Australian Conservation Foundation’s Christian Slattery said “Coal-loving Coalition MPs appear to have strongarmed the Environment Minister into granting Adani access to Queensland’s precious groundwater on the eve of the election”.

Slattery said that if Price had been pressured to rush through the approval ahead of the election, the decision might be open to legal challenge.

He said the Queensland government was yet to sign off on Adani’s Black-Throated Finch Management Plan and Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Management Plan.

“And, importantly, Adani does not have federal approval for the proposed above-ground water infrastructure it requires to support its proposed thirsty coal mine,” Slattery said.

GetUp said there would be a backlash against the decision. “The Coalition can expect to lose a swathe of seats around Australia for their capitulation to a single coal company at the expense of the community.

“A storm of local groups are already hard at work in Kooyong and Flinders, and now GetUp is going to make an extra 100,000 calls into Flinders and 80,000 calls into Kooyong. This could cost Josh Frydenberg and Greg Hunt their jobs”.

Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie said: “This decision is environmental vandalism at its most extreme, facilitated by the most useless environment minister the country’s ever seen”.

In a statement Adani complained about its treatment from the Queensland government.

“Throughout the past 18 months, the Federal Department provided us with certainty of process and timing, including the steps involved in the independent review by CSIRO and Geoscience Australia experts.

In contrast, the Queensland government has continued to shift the goal posts when it comes to finalising the outstanding environmental management plans for the mine and is standing in the way of thousands of jobs for Queenslanders.

It’s time the Queensland government gave us a fair go and stopped shifting the goal posts so we can get on with delivering these jobs.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison to announce $2 billion over 10 years for climate fund


Random Thoughts

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison will announce $A2 billion over a decade for a Climate Solutions Fund, as the government seeks to counter criticisms that it is not doing enough towards dealing with climate change.

The money will extend the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), set up under the Abbott government’s “direct action” program, which at present has only $226 million uncommitted in it. More than $2.3 billion has now been committed under the ERF.

The new money – which will be about $200 million annually starting from January 2020 – will be used to partner with farmers, local government and businesses to reduce emissions. The government gives as examples

  • Remote indigenous communities will be assisted to reduce severe bush fires.

  • Small businesses will be supported to replace lighting, air
    conditioning and refrigeration systems to cut energy costs.

  • Farmers will receive assistance with revegetation and drought-proofing.

  • Local communities…

View original post 407 more words

Malcolm Turnbull and his emissions trading scheme shadow


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull, it seems, cannot escape the emissions trading scheme (ETS) bogey. This time, it comes in the form of China’s plan – which had been foreshadowed but is now confirmed – to introduce a national ETS.

Turnbull’s desire to do a deal with prime minister Kevin Rudd in 2009 for an ETS triggered the leadership contest that installed Tony Abbott as leader. The push against an ETS came from conservative Liberals, many of them climate change sceptics, and the Nationals.

After he was toppled as opposition leader Turnbull continued to strongly defend an ETS. Later, as a shadow minister and a minister he had to get fully on board with Abbott’s Direct Action.

More recently Turnbull went further. To win the vote of some conservative Liberals, who were needed for him to have the numbers to topple Abbott, Turnbull made it clear that as prime minister he would stick with the present policy and not contemplate an ETS.

When he got the leadership, he had to commit in writing as part of his Coalition agreement with the Nationals that he would maintain existing policies on climate change, carbon taxes and emissions reductions targets.

Sacrificing his views brought him support, but has left him looking on the wrong side of history – after earlier being on the right side of it. It is embarrassing, to say the least, that his expediency has been highlighted so quickly.

In terms of domestic politics, China’s decision should give some assistance to Labor, which has promised an ETS although it has not yet released the details.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt, who also used to believe in an ETS, is left arguing that Australia, with its taxpayer-funded emissions reduction fund, has “the best, most effective scheme in the world”, a claim that does not pass the credibility test.

Turnbull has a double problem. He knows Australia doesn’t have a gold-standard anti-emissions policy. And he is wide open to the charge of hypocrisy.

The Climate Institute’s John Connor says that with other countries broadening their emissions-reduction policies, “the prime minister is dancing around the reality that our policy toolbox is going to need a whole lot more in it”.

This will present problems for Turnbull as he approaches the election and – if the government is re-elected – beyond it.

In the run up to the poll is he just going to deny his past and go for an all-out attack on Labor’s ETS?

Will he at some point augment or change Direct Action to ensure that it has more bite and is fit for purpose as other countries ramp up their efforts? If so, how and when would that be done?

And what room to move will the Liberal conservatives and the Nationals give him to make necessary adjustments?

Frank Jotzo, director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at the Australian National University, thinks Turnbull will look for a way through.

“The plan may well be to gradually reform the Direct Action scheme to make it work a bit like an ETS – for example by giving the present ineffective safeguards regime some teeth. But that would be very much inferior compared to a proper carbon pricing scheme.”

Connor believes the move by China and others “will give Turnbull more flexibility in arguing for stronger policies within his own team. He can point to much more robust policies abroad and dispel fantastic notions, popular amongst conservatives from 2009-12, that Australia was at risk of leading the world.”

As Connor points out, the irony is that if Turnbull had prevailed in the 2009 leadership vote and carried the deal with Rudd, Australia would have had an ETS policy, alongside stronger renewable energy and energy efficiency policies he supported with Rudd, leaving it in a better position with its climate policy now.

Abbott’s ascension not only stopped that ETS deal but ensured the Gillard government’s emissions reduction scheme – which never got the chance to reach its full form as an ETS – was repealed after he won government.

Now, from beyond the political grave, Abbott’s inadequate climate policy still reigns, a challenge for his successor into the future.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Australia’s 'Carnival of Coal' – can you feel the love?


David Holmes, Monash University

As the latest State of the Climate report reaffirms 2014 to be the “the hottest on record”, the NSW Liberal Party is pressing ahead with plans for a “Carnival of Coal” in August. The party’s upper house whip, Peter Phelps, has appealed to members to download a sticker for MP office doors in support of the upcoming carbon love-in. It says:

I loved carbon before it was coal.

The Liberal paleo-love for coal, which Tony Abbott has declared “good for humanity”, is at least a point of differentiation with Labor. Labor does not promote such slogans at all – even if, in Victoria, the Andrews Labor government is still issuing coal exploration licences.

Both parties are capable of romancing the coal industry. But Liberal parties around the country have had much more success in convincing voters that either coal is more important than climate, or have decided that – with a population drip-fed on attention-deficit-consumerism and its reality television advertorials – their connection can be comfortably sublimated.

Whatever its form, the love for coal in Australia is going to end badly, like all relationships based on fantasy. To slightly misquote a 19th-century philosopher: the demand to give up the illusion that coal is good for humanity is the demand to give up a condition which needs such an illusion.

The condition I am referring to is the way our half-formed social democracy has become so captive to the ugliest form of corporate-servicing statism. It is not that the state has completely merged with corporate interests. Australia still has incredibly strong and progressive civic institutions such as its public broadcaster, its schools, universities, bureaus, museums and aspects of the legal system that do not serve capital’s interests.

It is that our governments have become servile – not to voters, but to a conjunction of multinational mining, energy and media interests, who have as their dating agencies the far-right silos of the capitalist class, such as the Institute for Public Affairs, which do not disclose their corporate donors.

Many believe, including perhaps Abbott himself, that he retains his power base at the pleasure of an ageing octogenarian who is well known for obtaining amusement from playing the Freudian Fort-Da game with entire democracies – the power to give and take away power – as long as he has also received something in return.

The same newspaper group that managed to squeeze a “toxic” “carbon tax” through the consciousness of millions of tabloid readers by means of slogan and cartoon did so when it was threatened by the Australian Tax Office (ATO) with having to repay almost A$900 million it had received on the eve of the last federal election.

The infamous “Kick this Mob Out” election blitzkrieg on Labor that started on August 5, 2013, was launched precisely at decision time for the ATO to appeal the Federal Court ruling on the windfall payout News Corp reportedly received by titanic-scale profit-shifting.

Global profit-shifting activities are routine for multinational empires such as Murdoch’s. But, not all have the ability to pressure governments at election times. And it is clear that at least the two major political parties believe they need a media mogul to gain office.

But political parties also need big donors. The largest to the Coalition are the energy and mining companies, who receive the greatest benefits in corporate welfare.

The examples are quite grotesque. Fuel rebate subsidies that mining companies receive run at A$2.2 billion per year. Meanwhile, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) is asked to cancel its A$2.1 billion in subsidies directed exclusively to windfarms – which have the ability to hurt coal.

Before it moved to neuter the CEFC, the Coalition has proposed what has been dubbed the ”Dirty Energy Finance Corporation” for Northern Australia. It will bewilderingly make up to A$5 billion available to subsidise infrastructure projects in northern Australia and Queensland in particular.

A source has suggested to me that the fund is actually an elaborate financial smokescreen to helping out the coal mines in the Galilee basin – particularly the Adani Enterprises mine, but also the GVK Alpha Coalmine. GVK Alpha, the largest coal mine in Australia, was approved 2 months after the Coalition assumed power, is part-owned by Gina Rinehart – and also stands to benefit from billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies. Ms Rhinehart attracted satire
in 2011 for flying liberal MPs to India to attend the wedding of the granddaughter of mine co-owner GV Krishna.

With the coal price diving worldwide, the mines – are unlikely to be economically viable without a huge subsidy. They might also surpass the viability threshold if they were able to sell the coal to a nearby newly proposed coal-fired power station that has been endorsed by Abbott personally.

However, competition from renewable energy company Windlab for an adjacent 1.2 mw combined solar and wind farm would be an enormous threat to Alpha and Adani. It is pledging to undercut the price of the coal station by $30 per megawatt hour.

Time for my readers to draw a diagram to figure out which proposal will get funded. A diagram might picture the coincidence that the CEFC was directed to cease subsidising windfarms – for which it actually returns a profit to Australian taxpayers – just as it was realised the Windlab proposal posed a threat to the coal-fired power station.

It is worth considering that, according to Bill McKibben from 350.org, the Galilee basin alone has so much coal that if it is all burnt, it would take the world 30% of the way to getting to 2 degrees. You couldn’t invent a more tragic case study on how destructive the Abbott government is on climate.

But then there is Direct Action. This is a government marketing exercise that disguises a further A$2.5 billion giveaway to corporate Australia that works with targets so small as to guarantee Australia’s status as having fallen off the climate action map.

Detailed analysis shows that Direct Action won’t even meet its miniscule targets. It has led to a demonstrable increase in Australias Co2 emissions since the carbon tax was repealed, according to the government’s own figures.

Given the Abbott government’s ongoing love affair with coal, it is little wonder that Australia was publicly scrutinised at climate talks held in Bonn last month about the impact of its domestic policies. The UN talks, attended by representatives of 190 countries, were an important stepping stone to the much-anticipated Paris summit to be held in December.

While the Coalition’s reckless disregard for addressing climate change may not get scrutiny by the tabloid media in Australia, it certainly will in Paris.

The Conversation

David Holmes is Senior Lecturer, Communications and Media Studies at Monash University.

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

Australia: Clive Palmer Will Not Back Coalition Government’s Direct Action Plant to Combat Climate Change


One of Australia’s most ‘laughed at’ politicians is refusing to back what he sees as a waste of money – a project to combat climate change that will achieve nothing.

For more visit:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/21/us-australia-climatechange-idUSBREA3K08V20140421

Australia: Double Dissolution Threat Over Carbon Tax


The link below is to an article that looks at threats by the Liberal Party to hold a double dissolution election should its plans to scrap the carbon tax are rejected by the senate.

For more visit:
http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2013/s3762074.htm