Turnbull unveils Snowy plan for pumped hydro, costing billions

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The Snowy Hydro scheme already provides back-up energy to NSW and Victoria.

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In its latest move on energy policy, the Turnbull government has unveiled a plan to boost generation from the Snowy Hydro scheme by 50%. The Conversation

The government says the expansion, which it has labelled the Snowy Mountains Scheme 2.0, would add 2,000 megawatts of renewable energy to the National Electricity Market. This would be enough to power 500,000 homes.

Claiming the upgrading would be an “electricity game-changer”, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that in one hour it would be able to produce 20 times the 100 megawatt-hours expected from the battery proposed this week by the South Australian government, but would deliver it constantly for almost a week.

Turnbull flew to the Snowy early Thursday to formally announce the plan. The commonwealth is a minority shareholder in the Snowy Hydro, with a 13% stake. New South Wales and Victoria have 58% and 29% stakes respectively.

The government, through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), would examine several sites that could support large-scale pumped hydroelectric energy storage in the area, Turnbull said.

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said the cost would run into “billions of dollars”. It is being suggested it would be around A$2 billion. Frydenberg avoided being tied down on when it would be completed.

He said three new tunnels were being looked at, stretching 27 kilometres for the pumped hydro-facility. It would not involve new dams, but connect existing reservoirs and recycle water.

The plan had the potential to ensure there would be the needed renewable energy supply for those on the east coast at times of peak demand, Frydenberg said.

Tony Wood, energy program director at the Grattan Institute, cautioned that the plan would involve technical and economic issues, including whether it could make money, and to what extent it could contribute to solving the short-term power crisis.

“This isn’t some sort of magic panacea,” Wood told the ABC. Some hard-headed thinking was needed on what it would do and how it would work.

Turnbull said: “The unprecedented expansion will help make renewables reliable, filling in holes caused by intermittent supply and generator outages.

“It will enable greater energy efficiency and help stabilise electricity supply into the future,” he said – adding that this would ultimately mean cheaper power prices.

He said successive governments at all levels had failed to put in place the needed storage to ensure reliable supply.

“We are making energy storage infrastructure a critical priority to ensure better integration of wind and solar into the energy market and more efficient use of conventional power.”

Turnbull said an “all-of-the-above” approach, including hydro, solar, coal and gas, was critical to future energy supplies.

Snowy Hydro already provided back-up energy to NSW and Victoria and could extend to South Australia when expanded, he said. The expansion would have no impact on the supply of irrigation water to NSW, South Australia and Queensland.

The feasibility study for the expansion is expected to be completed before the end of this year, with construction starting soon after, he said.


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Turnbull’s energy policy vision: heavy on direction, light on action

Tony Wood, Grattan Institute

Malcolm Turnbull has set a high bar for his government’s national energy policy. But in his speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday, the prime minister provided little by way of the clear policy direction that is so desperately needed if the bar is to be cleared.

Turnbull devoted almost a quarter of the speech to Australia’s energy challenge: delivering secure and affordable power while meeting our emission reduction targets.

His political opponents and environmentalists will reject as too low Australia’s current target of 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Yet few can credibly reject his framing of the challenge.

Security concerns

Given the events of the last half of 2016, including the state-wide blackout in South Australia in September, it was appropriate that Turnbull began with the issue of security of supply.

Subsidised wind power in South Australia provided more than 40% of supply, and the market responded by driving down prices. The closure of existing coal plants and the mothballing of some gas plants followed. The state’s consumers were left exposed to power outages and high prices due to a high dependence on transmission from Victoria and a few gas generators with considerable market power.

Yet it was the Renewable Energy Target, a policy supported by both Coalition and Labor governments since 2002, that provided the subsidy. This policy had scant regard for the security consequences of high levels of intermittent supply.

Turnbull was justified in his criticism of uncoordinated state-based renewable energy targets and their potential for adverse price and security consequences. Yet he chose to ignore the argument that a key driver for the states’ action is the failure of the federal government to deliver a credible, scalable climate change policy.

Storage solution

The critical need to manage high levels of intermittent supply was a major theme of Turnbull’s speech and he identified several technology approaches that could address this need.

Storing energy in a form that is available as electricity to match supply and demand has enormous attraction. However, large scale, flexible energy storage as heat, electricity in batteries or as pumped water in dams, is very expensive today.

Applying the resources of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to develop projects, as energy minister Josh Frydenberg announced following the speech, makes a lot of sense. This could drive down the costs in Australia.

Gas supply is a major issue on the Australian east coast, and one where federal/state differences have led to a real mess.

Inconsistencies between states on project development regulations and few levers of influence in the hands of Canberra. Turnbull suggested he is willing to explore incentives in an effort to break the impasse. Let’s hope the states take up his offer.

Coal in the mix?

Over the past few weeks, Frydenberg and resources minister Matthew Canavan have raised the question of a future for coal power in our energy mix. It was therefore not surprising that Turnbull proposed that new coal power technologies could offer both reliability and low emissions. However, on this front, there are big challenges.

The current cost of these technologies is considerably higher than that of existing plants. And the scale of the required investment, combined with climate change policy uncertainty, makes it highly unlikely that such plants could be financed without government backing. There were no hints from Turnbull as to how this might be provided.

In summary, the prime minister‘s vision of an integrated energy and climate change policy is, at a high level, coherent and convincing. His suggestion that the next incarnation of national energy policy should be technology agnostic should be applauded.

Yet, there remain three areas for criticism. First, he sought to draw “battlelines” on energy policy. In a policy area where long-term investments are so critical, it is hugely disappointing that Turnbull appears unwilling to seek bipartisan support.

Second, while arguing that his government’s policies could deliver emissions reduction more cheaply than Labor and without threatening security, he chose to let pass an opportunity to explain to the Australian people the economic cost of the energy transition he has embraced.

Finally, he has left for others the hard task of framing the energy policy framework that will clear his high bar. Let us hope his colleagues, specifically minister Frydenberg, are up to the task.

The Conversation

Tony Wood, Program Director, Energy, Grattan Institute

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

Turnbull wants to change Australia’s environment act – here’s what we stand to lose

Samantha Hepburn, Deakin University

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is seeking changes to Australia’s national environment act to stop conservation groups from challenging ministerial decisions on major resource developments and other matters of environmental importance.

Turnbull is reviving a bid made by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott to abolish Section 487 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) – a bid rejected in the Senate in 2015. If it goes ahead, the change will significantly diminish the functionality of the act.

The EPBC Act, introduced by the Howard government in 1999, has an established record of success. Judicial oversight of ministerial discretion, enabled by expanded standing under Section 487, has been crucial to its success.

Section 487 allows individuals and groups to challenge ministerial decisions on resources, developments and other issues under the EPBC Act. An organisation can establish standing by showing they have engaged in activities for the “protection or conservation of, or research into, the environment” within the previous two years. They must also show that their purpose is environmental protection.

Repealing this provision would remove the standing of these groups to seek judicial review of decisions. Standing would then revert to the common law position. That means parties would need to prove they are a “person aggrieved” by showing that their interests have been impacted directly.

Many environmental groups will be unable to satisfy the common law test, leaving a very small group of people with the right to request judicial review – essentially, the right to check that federal ministerial power under the EPBC Act has been exercised properly.

This is likely to have a devastating impact on fragile ecological systems and biodiversity conservation strategies.

This is particularly concerning given the dramatic changes affecting the environment from the expansion of onshore resource development and the acceleration of climate change.

Why do we have the EPBC Act?

The EPBC Act was designed to promote the introduction of ecologically sustainable resource development. This means federal environment ministers must take into account the economic, environmental and social impacts of proposals.

The EPBC Act is triggered and developments require Federal approval when they affect:

  • World heritage sites
  • National heritage sites
  • Wetlands
  • Threatened species and ecological communities
  • Migratory species
  • Nuclear actions, and
  • Commonwealth marine areas.

Since its implementation, Section 487 has proved critical to the success of significant achievements in environmental protection and management. Here are just a few examples.

The Nathan Dam case

The Nathan Dam case handed down in 2004 tested the protective scope of the EPBC Act.

Using Section 487, the Queensland Conservation Council and WWF Australia challenged the Federal Environment Minister’s decision to approve the construction of a large dam in central Queensland.

The dam was built to supply water for crop irrigation and other developments in the catchment of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The issue was whether the minister, in granting approval, was required to take into account the impact of pollution from farmers using water supplied by the dam.

The Full Federal Court held that adverse impacts such as downstream pollution by irrigators did need to be taken into account by the minister. The importance of this decision lay in the finding that the scope of the EPBC Act was very broad, requiring the minister to consider indirect environmental impacts, including the acts of third parties where those acts could be reasonably anticipated.

The decision also resulted in an amendment to the definition of “impact” set out in the act.

The Wielangta Forest case

In the 2006 Wielangta Forest case Senator Bob Brown of the Australian Greens argued that Forestry Tasmania’s operations were having a significant impact on three threatened species: the Tasmanian Wedge-Tailed Eagle, the broad-toothed stag beetle and the Swift Parrot.

The Federal Court held that the loss of habitat was cumulative and had a dramatic impact on the three protected species. The court concluded that the objectives of the EPBC Act were to protect threatened species as well as restore populations so they were no longer threatened.

Forestry Tasmania had not complied with the Regional Forestry Agreements Act, because there was insufficient protection provided for threatened species. This meant that Forestry Tasmania could not claim an exemption from the application of the EPBC Act.

The decision is important because it highlights the ability of the Act, where judicial review is sought under Section 487 by an interested party, to determine the suitability of state practices for the protection and restoration of endangered species.

The Japanese whaling case

The case brought by Humane Society International Inc (HSI) against Kyodo Senpaku Keisha Ltd (Kyodo) tested the scope of the EPBC Act to protect endangered species in international waters.

HSI sought to stop the Japanese company from scientific whaling in the Australian Whale Sanctuary. In response, Japan claimed it did not recognise Australia’s sovereignty over the Antarctic waters that lay within the sanctuary.

The Federal Court declared that Kyodo was in breach of the EPBC Act and granted HSI an injunction restraining Kyodo from committing further breaches. HSI’s standing under Section 487 was critical – without it, the case would not have been brought.

The Carmichael coal mine cases

In 2014 and 2015 two cases were brought challenging the decision of the Federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, to approve the Carmichael coal mine. The coal mine, one of the world’s largest, was to be developed by a subsidiary of the Indian company, Adani.

In early 2015 the Mackay Conservation Group brought an action in the Federal Court arguing that the Minister had failed to consider two listed threatened species, the yakka skink and the ornamental snake.

No judgement was issued, but the court issued a statement that the Minister had failed to take these species into account when making the approval.

In 2016, the Australian Conservation Foundation brought a further case arguing that Hunt had failed to take account of the climate impact from the mine. It’s estimated the burning of coal from these mines will generate approximately 4.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

In ACF v The Minister for the Environment, the Federal court concluded that the decision of the Environment Minister was legal, did not breach the EPBC Act and did not contravene the precautionary principle because there was no threat of serious or irreversible environmental damage to the Great Barrier Reef National Park.

ACF then sought an appeal from this decision to the Full Federal Court on the 16th of September, 2016. When handed down, the decision will be crucially important for the future of climate governance in Australia.

None of these decisions would have been possible without the groups’ standing under Section 487 of the EPBC Act. Removing these provisions undermines the foundational objectives of Australia’s national environmental act at a time when its protective capabilities are needed most.

The Conversation

Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, Deakin University

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

An open letter to the Prime Minister on the climate crisis, from 154 scientists

Andrew Glikson, Australian National University

Dear The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP, Prime Minister of Australia,

The following is an open letter signed by 154 Australian atmospheric, marine, environmental, biological and medical scientists, including several leading climatologists, for your and your government’s attention.

There is no Planet B

In July 2016, global temperatures soared to the hottest in the 136 years of the instrumental record, 0.1℃ warmer than previous warm Julys in 2015, 2011 and 2009. It followed a succession of rising temperatures, moving from 0.42℃ above average in 2000, to 0.87℃ above average by 2015.

Developments in the atmosphere-ocean system reported by major climate research organisations (including NASA, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US National Snow & Ice Data Center, the UK Met Office Hadley Centre, the Tyndall Centre, the Potsdam Institute; the science academics of dozens of nations; and in Australia the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology) include:

We are concerned that global warming, amplified by feedbacks from polar ice melt, methane release from permafrost, and extensive fires, may become irreversible, including the possible collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a crucial component of the global climate system that transfers heat from the tropics to the North Atlantic.

According to James Hansen, NASA’s former chief climate scientist, “burning all fossil fuels would create a different planet than the one that humanity knows“. Joachim Schellnhuber, Germany’s chief climate scientist, has summed up the situation by saying: “We’re simply talking about the very life support system of this planet.”

We note your broad agreement with this point, in light of your 2010 statement that:

…we are as humans conducting a massive science experiment with this planet. It’s the only planet we have got… We know that the consequences of unchecked global warming would be catastrophic… We as a human species have a deep and abiding obligation to this planet and to the generations that will come after us.

While the Paris Agreement remains unbinding and global warming has received minimal attention in the recent elections, governments worldwide are presiding over a large-scale demise of the planetary ecosystems, which threatens to leave large parts of Earth uninhabitable.

We call on the Australian government to tackle the root causes of an unfolding climate tragedy and do what is required to protect future generations and nature, including meaningful reductions of Australia’s peak carbon emissions and coal exports, while there is still time.

There is no Planet B.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Christine Adams-Hosking, Conservation planner, University of Queensland

Associate Professor Stephen Adelstein, Medical scientist, University of Sydney

Professor Ross Alford, Tropical ecologist, James Cook University

Dr Wallace Ambrose, Archaeological anthropologist, ANU

Dr Martin Anda, Environmental engineer, Murdoch University

Dr Marion Anderston, Geochemist, Monash University

Professor Michael Archer, Paleontologist, UNSW Australia

Dr Leanne Armand, Marine Researcher, Macquarie University

Professor Patricia Armati, Medical scientist, University of Sydney

Professor Owen Atkin, Plant respiration researcher, ANU

Professor Elaine Baker, Marine scientist, University of Sydney

Associate Professor Cathy Banwell, Medical scientist, ANU

Dr Andrew Barnes, Aquatic animal health researcher, University of Queensland

Dr Fiona Beck, Renewable energy researcher, ANU

Dr Tom Beer, Climatic and environmental change researcher, CSIRO

Professor Andrew Blakers, Photovoltaics/energy storage researcher, ANU

Professor Phillip Board, Medical scientist, ANU

Professor Justin Borevitz, Plant geneticist, ANU

Dr Caryl Bosman, Environmental planning researcher, Griffith University

Professor David Bowman, Forestry researcher, University of Tasmania

Dr Timothy Broadribb, Plant Scientist, University of Tasmania

Dr Helen Brown, Environmental health researcher, Curtin University

Dr Tim Brown, Medicine and environment researcher, ANU

Professor Ralf Buckley, Conservation/ecotourism researcher, Griffith University

Dr Florian Busch, Plant scientist, ANU

Dr Jason Byrne, Urban design researcher, Curtin University

Professor Maria Byrne, Marine and developmental biologist, University of Sydney

Dr Martina Calais, Renewable energy researcher, Murdoch University

Associate Professor Craig Carter, Engineering and IT researcher, Murdoch University

Dr Phill Cassey, Ecologist, Adelaide University

Professor Carla Catterall, Ecologist, Griffith University

Dr Juleen Cavanaugh, Biomedical scientist, ANU

Professor Fred Chow, Plant biologist, ANU

Associate Professor David Cohen, Geochemist, UNSW Australia

Professor Steven Cooper, Evolutionary biologist, SA Museum

Professor Rod Connolly, Marine scientist, Griffith University

Professor Jann Conroy, Plant scientist, Western Sydney University

Dr Lucy Coupland, Medical scientist, ANU

Dr Joseph Coventry, Solar energy researcher, ANU

Dr Chris Creagh, Physicist, Murdoch University

Professor Patricia Dale, Environment/planning researcher, Griffith University

Dr Armanda Davies, Planning geographer, Curtin University

Dr Ian Davies, Forestry fire management researcher, ANU

Dr Kirsten Davies, Ethno-ecology and environmental law researcher, Macquarie University

Dr Robert Davis, Vertebrate biologist, Edith Cowan University

Professor Keith Dear, Global health researcher, ANU

Dr Fjalar de Haan, Sustainability researcher, University of Melbourne

Professor Hans Peter Dietz, Medical scientist, Penrith Hospital

Professor Bob Douglas, Medical scientist, ANU

Associate Professor Mark Douglas, Medical scientist, University of Sydney

Dr Jen Drysdale, Climate and energy researcher, University of Melbourne

Professor Angela Dulhunty, Medical scientist, ANU

Professor Robyn Eckersley, Climate change governance researcher, University of Melbourne

Dr Elin Charles Edwards, Environmental geographer, University of Queensland

Professor David Eldridge, Evolutionary biologist, UNSW Australia

Professor David Elsworth, Environmental ecologist, Western Sydney University

Associate Professor Jason Evans, Climate change researcher, UNSW Australia

Dr Isabelle Ferru, Medical scientist, ANU

Professor Tim Flannery, Climate Council

Professor Barry Fox, Ecologist, UNSW Australia

Dr Evan Franklin, Solar energy researcher, ANU

Dr Diego Garcia-Bellido, Paleontologist, University of Adelaide

Dr Stephen Garnett, Conservation and sustainability researcher, Charles Darwin University

Dr John Gillen, Soil scientist, ANU

Dr Andrew Glikson, Paleoclimatologist, ANU

Dr Susan Gould, Climate change researcher, Griffith UNiversity

Professor Colin Groves, Anthropologist, ANU

Dr Huade Guan, Hydro-meteorologist, Flinders University

Professor Neil Gunningham, Global governance researcher, ANU

Dr Asish Hagar, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia

Dr Nina Hall, Sustainable water researcher, University of Queensland

Dr Willow Hallgren, Atmospheric scientist, Griffith University

Dr Elizabeth Hanna, Environmental health researcher, ANU

Associate Professor David Harley, Epidemiologist, ANU

Professor Robert S. Hill, Paleobotanist, University of Adelaide

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Marine climatologist and Great Barrier Reef researcher, University of Queensland

Professor Geoff Hope, Archaeologist and natural history researcher, ANU

Associate Professor Michael Howes, Environmental scientist, Griffith University

Professor Lesley Hughes, Climate change and species researcher, Macquarie University

Dr Paul Humphries, Environmental scientist, Charles Sturt University

Professor Phillip Jenning, Energy researcher, Murdoch University

Professor Darryl Jones, Behavioural ecologist, Griffith University

Dr Hugh Jones, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia

Dr Jochen Kaempf, Physical oceanographer, Flinders University

Professor Jeffrey Keelan, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia

Professor Peter Kershaw, Biogeographer and botanist, Monash University

Dr Carsten Kulheim, Plant physiologist, ANU

Professor Rakkesh Kumar, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia

Dr Lori Lach, Rainforest conservationist, James Cook University

Professor Barry Lacopetta, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia

Professor Trevor Lamb, Medical scientist, ANU

Professor Tony Larkum, Plant biologist, University of Technology Sydney

Dr Annie Lau, Geography and environmental management researcher, University of Quensland

Professor Bill Laurance, Tropical environment and sustainability researcher, James Cook University

Associate Professor Fred Leusch, Soil, water and energy researcher, Griffith University

Professor Andrew Lowe, Plant conservationist, University of Adelaide

Dr Fabio Luciano, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia

Professor Justin Marshall, Marine biologist, University of Queensland

Dr Melanie Massaro, Ecologist and ornithologist, Charles Sturt University

Associate Professor John F. McCarthy, Resource environment researcher, ANU

Dr Allison McInnes, Plant biologist, UTS

AssociateProfessor Andrew McKenzie, Landscape planning researcher, University of Canberra

Dr Kathryn McMahon, Environmental researcher, Edith Cowan University

Professor Andrew Millington, Land change scientist, Flinders University

Professor Angela Moles, Evolutionary ecologist, UNSW Australia

Professor Renee Morris, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia

Professor Barbara Norman, Urban planning researcher, University of Canberra

Professor Nikos Ntoumanis, Behavioural medicine researcher, Curtin University

Dr Bradley Opdyke, Climate historian, ANU

Professor Richard G. Pearson, Marine and tropical biologist, James Cook University

Dr Barrie Pittock, Climate scientist, CSIRO

Dr Jason Potas, Medical scientist, ANU

Professor Susan Prescott, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia

Dr Lynda Prior, Climate researcher, University of Tasmania

Dr Thomas Prowse, Biologist, University of Adelaide

Professor Marie Ranson, Molecular biologist, University of Wollongong

Professor Steve Redman, Medical scientist, ANU

Associate Professor Tracy Rogers, Evolutionary ecologist, UNSW Australia

Professor Chris Ryan, Eco-innovation researcher, University of Melbourne

Dr Oz Sahnin, Climate change researcher, Griffith University

Associate Professor Peter Sainsbury, Climate and health researcher, University of Sydney

Professor David Sinclair, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia

Dr Tom Sobey, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia

Professor Will Steffen, Climate change researcher, ANU

Professor Peter Steinberg, Marine scientist, UNSW Australia

Associate Professor Christian Stricker, Medical scientist, ANU

Professor Ian Suthers, Marine biologist, UNSW Australia

Associate Professor Sue Taylor, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia

Dr Sebastian Thomas, Sustainability researcher, University of Melbourne

Dr Andrew Thomson, Solar researcher, ANU

Associate Professor Thomas Thorsten, Marine biologist, UNSW Australia

Associate Professor Ian Tibbetts, Marine Scientist, University of Queensland

Professor David Tissue, Plant ecophysiologist, Western Sydney University

Professor Matthias Tomczak, Oceanographer, Flinders University

Mr Shane Toohey, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia

Dr Gail Trapp, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia

Professor Patrick Troy, Human ecologist, ANU

Professor Tom Trull, Antarctic, oceans and atmosphere researcher, CSIRO

Professor David Tscharke, Medical scientist, ANU

Professor Chris Turney, Antarctic climatologist, UNSW Australia

Dr Tania Urmee, Renewable energy technologist, Murdoch University

Professor René Vaillancourt, Plant geneticist, University of Tasmania

Professor John Veevers, Earth scientist, Macquarie University

Professor Charlie Veron, Marine scientist, Australian Institute of Marine Science

Professor Phil Waite, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia

Dr Elaine Walker, Physics and energy researcher, Murdoch University

Dr Hayden Washington, Environmental researcher, UNSW Australia

Professor David Watson, Water and society ecologist, Charles Sturt University

Dr Scarla J. Weeks, Biophysical oceanographer, University of Queensland

Professor Adrian Werner, Hydrologist, Flinders University

Mr Peter Weiske, Medical and environmental scientist, ANU

Dr Jonathan Whale, Energy researcher, Murdoch University

Associate Professor George Wilson, Wildlife management researcher, ANU

Dr Phillip Zylstra, Forests and fire researcher, University of Wollongong

The Conversation

Andrew Glikson, Earth and paleo-climate scientist, Australian National University

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

Australia’s leader sets his sights low in opening conference gambit

Clive Hamilton

When newly minted Prime Minister Kevin Rudd rose to speak at COP13 in Bali in 2007 and announced that Australia would ratify the Kyoto Protocol, he received a standing ovation from the world community. After years of pariah status under John Howard’s government, Rudd was the beaming recipient of a wave of international love.

Today, Australia’s current leader Malcolm Turnbull arrived at COP21 in Paris in a similar situation, with Australia welcomed back into the fold after a two-year retreat to the dark ages. Yet when he rose to address the global multitude he had nothing to announce. Unlike Rudd, he did not become prime minister by promising to overturn a troglodytic climate policy; he became prime minister by promising to keep one.

Yet surrounded by global leaders in the mood for action, the external pressure on Turnbull to show his good faith is immense. And if he’s still the man who once said he would not lead a Liberal Party that was not committed to tackling climate change, then the internal pressure to be that man again will reach a peak this week.

So what could he tell the world? After the usual hype about the innovative and creative species, and with “faith in humanity’s genius for invention”, he repeated the claims that Australia would halve its per-capita emissions by 2030 and “meet and beat” its 2020 target (a 5% emissions reduction relative to 2000 levels), which in the scheme of things is hardly impressive.

What matters for the climate is how many tonnes we actually stop putting into the atmosphere, and these numbers are aimed at obscuring that truth.

Turnbull’s specific promises did not amount to much. He committed Australia to ratifying the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period – no surprise there.

He promised that Australia would join a commitment by rich countries to double clean energy investment around the world, without saying how much it would actually contribute.

And he committed Australia to spend A$1 billion over the next five years to help Pacific nations to defend against the effects of climate change. But it’s the old trick: the funds will come out of the existing aid budget, so will be taken away from other development projects. At this rate, Australia’s entire aid budget will soon be devoted to climate adaptation projects.

In short, Turnbull said nothing that might upset the deniers and sceptics on his backbench, they who held his arm while he signed the piece of paper saying he would not change Tony Abbott’s climate policy.

Those who want to see Australia take a firm stance on climate are waiting for Turnbull to prove himself. Most are willing to give him time to accumulate the political capital to overrule the sceptics.

But the signs are less than encouraging. When he dismissed as “heroic” Labor’s new target of a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030 – the minimum calculated by the Climate Change Authority if Australia is serious about limiting warming to 2℃ – it perhaps indicated that he plans to be nobody’s climate change hero.

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.

Australia’s climate policy is messier than a teenager’s bedroom, but is Turnbull the man to tidy it up?

Nick Rowley, University of Sydney

Much as we should remain sceptical of politicians proclaiming themselves to be decisive, no-nonsense actors on climate change, the previous prime minister, Tony Abbott, did plenty more than talk. He and his government channelled their lack of political will to address the climate problem into an enthusiastic appetite for “direct action” going well beyond the predictable abolition of the so-called “carbon tax”.

Abbott’s actions were born of an apparent ideological distaste for the whole climate agenda: he wound back the Renewable Energy Target; cut funding to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA); and attempted to abolish and then thwart the work of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC).

Replacing Abbott with almost anyone would be cause for celebration for anybody who believes the basic science of the global climate problem might be even half right.

But in Malcolm Turnbull we have a figure who lost the leadership of his party because of his position against Abbott on climate. He then crossed the floor of the parliament to vote for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS).

Despite having to remain wedded to the existing Abbott-Hunt policies on climate to gain the leadership, anyone who doubts Turnbull’s credentials on climate change should read his 2010 speech. His perspective on why he supported the CPRS displays a deep knowledge and conviction.

Good advice, bad outcomes

It is one of the rarely considered consequences of the sad story of Australia’s national policy response to climate change that many of our finest public servants have wasted years of effort on dutifully serving the demands of their political masters.

More than ten years ago, analysis by then Treasury Secretary Ken Henry under Peter Costello recommended a national emissions trading scheme. The advice was ignored.

In 2006 John Howard asked Peter Shergold, then head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, to examine the most effective ways to achieve the emissions reductions required. He too concluded that an emissions trading scheme was necessary. But the following year, the incoming prime minister, Kevin Rudd, ignored the advice, wanting to adopt his own approach.

Then, in 2010, Rudd’s CPRS hit the buffers of prime ministerial hubris followed by the disappointing outcome of the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen. By then, Turnbull had already lost his job as opposition leader over his climate policy stance. With Abbott on rhetorical steroids, the debate deteriorated to resemble a talkback radio slanging match crudely dominated by toxic gesture.

Despite Julia Gillard’s noble efforts as prime minister to achieve some modicum of policy stability and continuity, her government’s initially fixed carbon pricing system was swiftly dismantled by the Abbott government, together with attempts to either abolish or thwart the efforts of new organisations such as the CEFC and ARENA, which were doing important, tangible work and investment.

Don’t look away now

It is a sad and sorry story. Much like looking into a teenager’s bedroom, the temptation is to take a quick, horrified peek and then shut the door on the whole mess.

But we can’t, largely because the issue won’t go away. The decisions taken by Australia’s major allies and trading partners will come to affect our economy whether we like it not. As Bank of England Governor Mark Carney succinctly put it in a recent speech at Lloyd’s of London, “with climate change, the more businesses invest and change with foresight, the less they will regret in hindsight”.

With his talk of “agile” government, Turnbull, the former investment banker, seems to have a similar perspective.

And what is true for businesses is also being recognised by China, India, the European Union and the United States. No longer is climate change a niche concern: it has increasingly become part of the policy and business mainstream.

Turnbull’s ascendancy to the prime ministership is potentially a vital circuit-breaker. From the moment his predecessor came to office, “climate” and “change” were two words that would rarely be heard together in the Commonwealth bureaucracy. With Abbott’s removal, those working in the central agencies, the CEFC and ARENA can breathe a collective sigh of relief and get back to the serious work of developing policy and supporting projects to reduce emissions.

Abbott’s successor has (understandably) gained power on a number of promises, including that the existing Direct Action policy will remain untouched.

But this is no great problem for Turnbull. He knows that effective climate policy must send clear, stable and continuous messages across the economy about the important and economically rational imperative of reducing emissions.

Direct action doesn’t do this. It is relevant only to the businesses that receive public money to do things that otherwise they wouldn’t. It is wasteful, and most likely so costly as to be unsustainable beyond a few years.

With the government committed to its formal UN climate pledge to cut greenhouse emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030, Turnbull is going to need new policies to achieve this. And with countries likely to agree in Paris that their commitments should be reviewed on a five-yearly basis, it is almost unthinkable that Direct Action could be funded and sustained as Australia’s flagship climate policy over the longer term.

Assuming that the Paris summit delivers an international climate agreement in December, and that Turnbull pulls off an election victory next year, I predict that soon after we will see a renewed creativity and urgency on climate policy. Set free from the toxic pugilism of Australian climate politics, a Turnbull-led government might finally achieve the sensible national approach that has been analysed to death.

Malcolm Turnbull might just be the adult prime minister who walks into that bedroom and cleans up the climate policy mess left by his squabbling predecessors.

This is an edited and extended version of a blog post published at “Pearls and Irritations”, the blog established by John Menadue, former head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet under prime ministers Whitlam and Fraser.

The Conversation

Nick Rowley, Adjunct professor, University of Sydney

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

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.