Exit Paris climate agreement: Tony Abbott

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Tony Abbott has called for Australia to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, in a swingeing attack on Malcolm Turnbull’s National Energy Guarantee.

Abbott said the NEG was not about reducing prices but about cutting emissions. “The only certainty that the National Energy Guarantee as it stands would provide is the certainty of emissions reduction.”

Delivering the Bob Carter Commemorative Lecture in Melbourne, Abbott said: “Withdrawing from the Paris agreement that is driving the National Energy Guarantee would be the best way to keep prices down and employment up – and to save our party from a political legacy that could haunt us for the next decade at least”.

“As long as we remain in the Paris agreement – which is about reducing emissions, not building prosperity – all policy touching on emissions will be about their reduction, not our well-being. It’s the emissions obsession that’s at the heart of our power crisis and it’s this that has to end for our problems to ease.”

Abbott played down the importance of the government’s much-vaunted tax cuts in comparison with the implications of energy policy.

“These are strange times in Canberra when there’s a hullaballoo over modest tax cuts that only take effect fully in six or seven years’ time, while mandatory emissions cuts that start sooner, that mean more for the economy, and whose ramifications will be virtually impossible to reverse are expected more or less to be waved through”.

In the party room last week Abbott had little support for his attack on the NEG. But his constant agitation is unhelpful for the government as it tries to win backing from the states and territories for the scheme. It also reinforces the impression of division in government ranks, even though the majority of the backbenchers now just want the energy policy settled.

Abbott said that his government in 2015 had set a 2030 emissions reduction target “on the basis that this was more or less what could be achieved without new government programs and without new costs on the economy.

‘’There was no advice then to the effect that it would take a Clean Energy Target or a National Energy Guarantee to get there,” he said.

“My government never put emissions reduction ahead of the wellbeing of families and the prosperity of industries”.

When the world’s leading country exited the Paris agreement “it can hardly be business as usual,” he said. “Absent America, my government would not have signed up to the Paris treaty, certainly not with the current target”.

Abbott said he could understand “the government would like to crack the so-called trilemma of keeping the lights on, getting power prices down and reducing emissions in line with our Paris targets – it’s just that there’s no plausible evidence all three can be done at the same time”.

“If you read the National Energy Guarantee documentation, there’s a few lines about lower prices, a few pages about maintaining supply, and page after impenetrable page about reducing emissions.

’‘The government is kidding us when it says it’s all about reducing prices when there ’s an emissions reduction target plus a reliability target but no price target”.

The government said it wanted to give certainty but the only certainty was that any NEG approved by state ALP governments at COAG would be “massively ramped up to deliver even more emissions reduction under the next Labor government”.

The ConversationAbbott repeated his call for the government to subsidise the boosting of baseload power. He again suggested threatening to compulsorily acquire Liddell coal-fired power station, which AGL is refusing either to keep going or to sell.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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


Research suggests Tony Abbott’s climate views are welcome in the Hunter Valley

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Vanessa Bowden, University of Newcastle

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott this week drew renewed attention to himself with a speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a London-based climate sceptic group, in which he voiced a range of doubts about climate science and policy, and claimed that climate change is “probably doing good”.

The comments might come as no surprise to those familiar with his views. But what’s arguably more surprising is the prevalence of similar opinions among some Australian business leaders.

My research, published this week in the journal Environmental Sociology, features interviews with business leaders in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales – a major coal-producing hub.

It reveals that Abbott’s doubts about the veracity of climate science and its forecast impacts, and his scathing dismissal of those concerned about climate change, have a long history of support among the Hunter Valley’s business leaders.

Read more: A brief history of fossil-fuelled climate denial

Carried out in the lead-up to the implementation of the Gillard Labor government’s price on carbon in 2011, my research sought to understand business leaders’ attitudes to government policies and to climate change more broadly.

I approached 50 chief executives of organisations operating in the Hunter Region, of whom 31 agreed to participate (or had a senior staff member take up the opportunity).

They were asked questions about their views on climate change, how and whether their organisation was responding to the issue, and what they thought about the various political parties’ policies in response to it.

Perhaps not surprisingly, participants’ overwhelming concern was that the economy might decline as a result of climate policies such as pricing carbon.

While some were concerned about climate change, there was almost unanimous opposition to carbon pricing. Given the politics of the time, this too is unremarkable, particularly in light of the success Abbott enjoyed at the 2013 election after pledging to scrap the policy.

What was surprising, however, was the pervasive scepticism among participants about the science of climate change. This is especially the case given that many people now view the debate over whether climate change is happening – and whether it is caused by human activity – as being over.

Moreover, many participants believed that climate scientists were motivated by financial rewards in arguing that climate change is a serious concern.

These beliefs were voiced not only by those in industries like coal, aluminium, and shipping – but echoed by participants from other industries, revealing a deep scepticism of both the discipline and the science of climate change itself.

It is noteworthy that the research was focused on the Hunter Valley and Newcastle, home to the world’s biggest coal port.

Participants also held intensely antagonistic views in relation to the environment movement and the Australian Greens, believing their views were quasi-religious and that they too were self-interested and unrealistic in wanting to tackle climate change.

Striking views

In some ways the extremity of these comments was striking. Although prominent in writings by conservative columnists at the time, the broader debate was much more focused on jobs and the economy.

A small minority of participants did support some type of mechanism to limit greenhouse emissions, and were concerned about the environment.

But more broadly, my research showed that the Hunter Region’s business leaders – whether or not they were directly involved in coal – had taken on board many of the arguments promulgated by the industry in its ultimately successful campaign against carbon pricing in Australia.

Read more: Hashtags v bashtags: a brief history of mining advertisements and their backlashes

These dynamics may have changed a little in recent times, with companies such as AGL and BHP shifting away from coal.

The overall dynamics of the climate politics, however – as revealed in the current stalemate over responding to the Finkel Review – remains out of step with what the climate science is telling us. As, of course, do Abbott’s comments.

The ConversationAbbott’s London speech was interpreted as incendiary, and earned him a sharp rebuke from government colleagues. But when we look at the places where his message might be received more favourably, it becomes apparent there are still pockets of the country where he might expect to find a plentiful and powerful audience.

Vanessa Bowden, Associate Lecture in Social Enquiry, University of Newcastle

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

Tony Abbott, once the ‘climate weathervane’, has long since rusted stuck

Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

Tonight former Prime Minister Tony Abbott will be in London to give a speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, titled “Daring to Doubt”, in which he will reportedly argue that climate policy is “shutting down industries”. (It’s not clear if he’s bought carbon offsets for the 10 tonnes of carbon that a return flight to the UK will release into the atmosphere.)

Whatever talking points and soundbites he presents will inevitably be interpreted as yet another salvo in the Coalition’s ferocious and interminable war over energy and climate policy.

Read more: Two new books show there’s still no goodbye to messy climate politics

The venue is the same one where Abbott’s mentor John Howard U-turned on his earlier climate policy U-turn. In a 2013 speech, Howard disparagingly declared that “one religion is enough”, despite having belatedly pledged in 2006 to introduce an emissions trading scheme, only to lose to Kevin Rudd the following year.

Who are the GWPF anyway?

The Global Warming Policy Foundation was set up in 2009 by Nigel Lawson, who in the 1980s served as Chancellor of the Exchequer (the UK equivalent of treasurer) in Margaret Thatcher’s government, but is arguably more famous these days as Nigella’s dad.

The foundation was founded just days after the first so-called “Climategate” emails were leaked. But after complaints, in 2014 the UK Charity Commission rejected the notion that the organisation provides an educational resource, concluding that:

The [GWPF] website could not be regarded as a comprehensive and structured educational resource sufficient to demonstrate public benefit. In areas of controversy, education requires balance and neutrality with sufficient weight given to competing arguments.

Ahead of the Commission’s report, the Global Warming Policy Forum was born as the organisation’s campaigning arm, free from the regulations that govern charities.

Despite its loud demands for crystal-clear transparency about climate science, and its repeated claims that scientists are swayed by big fat grants, the GWPF is oddly cagey about its own funding. In a 2012 BBC Radio programme, Lawson said he relied on friends who “tend to be richer than the average person and much more intelligent than the average person”. An investigation by the website DeSmog has dug up some more information.

More recently the GWP Forum has been in the news because it appointed a pro-Brexit oil company boss to its board and because in August Lawson appeared on BBC Radio to attack Al Gore, accusing the Nobel prizewinning climate activist of peddling “the same old claptrap” and adding: “People often fail to change and he says he hasn’t changed, he’s like the man who goes around saying ‘the end of the world is nigh’ with a big placard”.

Read more: A brief history of Al Gore’s climate missions to Australia

Lawson wasn’t done. He also claimed that “according to the official figures, during this past 10 years, if anything, mean global temperature, average world temperature, has slightly declined”.

Factcheckers were quick off the mark, and the BBC was chided by, among others, Professor Brian Cox (a year on from bringing his graph to Q&A to try to educate the British-Australian politician Malcolm Roberts).

Days later Lawson admitted that his figures were not from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but from a meteorologist who works for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank founded by Charles Koch.

Abbott the weathervane

Anyway, back to Abbott. Digging around in the archives throws up some amusing surprises about him, as befits a man who has been making headline since 1977. In 1994 an environmental campaign to recreate Tasmania’s Lake Pedder found an unusual ally in the newly minted Member for Warringah, who wrote an article in The Australian that plaintively asked:

If we can renovate old houses and old cars, rejuvenate works of art, recreate forgotten languages and restore degraded bushland, why can’t we rehabilitate the site of a redundant dam?

Abbott seems not to have been particularly exercised by climate policy during the first decade of his parliamentary career. But once the issue hit the top of the political agenda, Abbott was – in his own words to Malcolm Turnbull – “a bit of a weathervane”.

He helped convince Howard to agree to some sort of ETS proposal during the ultimately futile bid to fend off Kevin Rudd in 2007. In July 2009, in a front-page story in The Australian headed “Abbott – we have to vote for ETS”, he was quoted as saying:

The [Rudd] government’s emissions trading scheme is the perfect political response to the public’s fears. It’s a plausible means to limit carbon emissions that doesn’t impose any obvious costs on voters.

However, by September 2009, with Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership on the rocks (remember Godwin Grech?), Abbott made a fateful trip to Beaufort in rural Victoria, and discovered that the room loved him saying “climate change is absolute crap”. The weathervane had made an abrupt about-face.

As Paul Kelly notes in his 2014 opus Triumph and Demise, then-Senator Nick Minchin was crucial in convincing Abbott that there was no serious electoral price to be paid in opposing Kevin Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

Turnbull was on the ropes, and Abbott won the leadership ballot by one vote. As David Marr recounts, the party was almost as stunned as the nation. “God Almighty,” one of the Liberals cried in the party room that day. “What have we done?”

The ensuing years need no extended recap, though two points are worth mentioning. The first is the admission by Abbott’s former chief of staff Peta Credlin that the “carbon tax” that was going to be the end of the world… wasn’t a carbon tax.

The second is that former environment minister Greg Hunt recently rebutted the claim that backbenchers prevented further cuts to the Renewable Energy Target under Abbott’s prime ministership.

Backed into a corner

The upshot is that Abbott has, as Philip Coorey recently observed, totally painted himself into a corner on energy and renewables.

Mind you, it may not matter that much to him, given that his apparent aim is not to “do a Rudd” and return to the helm, but simply to drive a wrecking ball through Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership – with climate and energy policy as collateral damage.

Read more: Coal and the Coalition: the policy knot that still won’t untie

As Abbott accepts another pat on the back from a roomful of climate deniers in London, we may wonder how long business interests in Australia will tolerate his wrecking, undermining and sniping. There is bewilderment and dismay at the destabilising effect on policy.

Among the business lobby, BHP has evidently forced the departure of Brendan Pearson as head of the Minerals Council in protest at the council’s similarly backward stance. That much is within their gift. But with regard to the Coalition government, those businesses can do little but despair at the handful of recalcitrant MPs who have nominated climate policy as the ditch in which they will die, in service of the culture war.

The ConversationThe hot air just doesn’t seem to be letting up, any more than our hot summers will in the future.

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

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

The pressure is mounting on Abbott to deliver on climate

Matt McDonald, The University of Queensland

International and domestic forces appear to be conspiring to significantly ratchet up the pressure on Prime Minster Tony Abbott’s climate policy.

Growing concerns about a global decline in demand for coal and the spectre of stranded fossil fuel assets featured in this week’s ABC Four Corners program. This program, noting the growing influence of the divestment movement on Australian climate debate, painted Australia’s investment in fossil-fuel-driven exports as misguided, even financially irresponsible.

Predictably, the Minerals Council of Australia and Newscorp have lined up to pillory the national broadcaster over the program’s claims. But there is little doubt that the economic case for coal mining and its expansion is becoming less compelling.

Certainly, this case will take another large hit if this year’s Paris climate talks lead to agreement on global emissions reductions, and help for developing states to transition to low-carbon economies.

More concerning still for the prime minister is that public concern about climate change continues to grow. The Lowy Institute’s annual survey, released this week, suggests that a majority now views climate change as a “serious and pressing problem”, while also identifying support for renewable energy and strong Government action on climate change.

Australia’s climate commitments

Australia is currently committed to a 5% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, relative to 2000 levels – a comparatively small target for a developed state with among the highest per capita emissions in the world.

Yet there are significant doubts about whether Australia is capable of achieving even that modest goal, particularly through the economic incentives model of Direct Action. The recently announced reduction in Australia’s Renewable Energy Target, currently making its way through the Senate, will not make this easier.

Australia will soon announce its “intended nationally determined contribution” (INDC) to global greenhouse gas emissions reductions after 2020, in advance of crucial climate talks in Paris in December.

At the international level, and even before Australia’s INDC announcement, pressure on the Government is already growing.

The international dimension

As momentum towards talks in Paris builds, Australia was singled out as a climate free-rider by an international panel led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Other countries also raised a series of difficult questions about Australia’s ambitions and the capacity to achieve these through existing policy.

Last week, the G7 announced its intention to phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century. This not only provided further momentum for climate action, it also involved railroading Canada: a traditional ally of Australia in UN climate talks.

With optimism slowly building that the Paris summit in December will avoid the same problems as Copenhagen in 2009, international pressure threatens to isolate the Australian government.

Even if governments are ambivalent about their international reputation, this can be dangerous at the domestic level. In the mid-2000s, the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol and growing international climate concern was central to the pressure that began to build on John Howard to act on climate change. It was arguably also central to his electoral defeat in 2007.

Another climate victim?

Prime Minister Abbott came to lead the opposition promising to challenge the Labor government’s commitment to carbon pricing, and won the 2013 election largely through casting it as a referendum on the carbon tax.

A year after coming into force, public attitudes to the carbon tax had softened and the tax itself was serving to drive down emissions. Meanwhile, experts were lining up to question the effectiveness and costs of Direct Action.

The more recent growth in public concern and international momentum on climate action suggests climate policy risks shifting from being an area of strength for the coalition to an Achilles heel.

For a government already struggling in opinion polls, these winds of change significantly raise the stakes for Australia’s target announcement. A limited target in the face of growing domestic and international concern could see pressure mount on Australia from both beyond and within.

And these developments raise questions about whether climate change could claim yet another Australian political leader.

The Conversation

Matt McDonald is Associate Professor of International Relations at The University of Queensland.

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