Prime minister Scott Morrison has finally unveiled his climate policy and it is clearly designed to do two things: Placate the core rump of climate deniers and ideologues within his own party and the conservative media, and try to fool enough others that the Coalition is doing something to address a problem it barely admits exists, or worth doing anything about.
The $2 billion funding over 10 years for emissions reduction projects shows that the Coalition’s climate policy and commitment has barely moved in a decade. Tony Abbott’s Direct Action funnelled more money in less than half the time – even if the emissions benefits of many of the projects funded are questionable and being questioned.
But Morrison, even as Australia lags ever further behind its modest commitments to Paris, and as the warning signs over climate change grow every stark, is putting on lipstick on a pig of a policy.
He has rebadged Direct Action and called it “Climate Solutions”. It is clearly anything but. It remains, to borrow former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull first assessment, a fig leaf of a climate plan, and a shrunken one at that.
Morrison’s game plan is to hope that the huge carry-over of credits created by Australia’s cynical game playing at Kyoto more than two decades ago, and the reductions from the renewables boom that it can barely stomach, will be enough to get Australia over the line of its initial Paris commitment. If he cares.
“Scott Morrison’s climate change policy is really Tony Abbott’s climate change policy,” Smart Energy Council John Grimes said in a statement.
“Scott Morrison has topped up Tony Abbott’s Emissions Reduction Fund, maintained Tony Abbott’s emissions reduction target and continued Tony Abbott’s contempt for action on climate change.”
To maintain the charade of “doing something”, Morrison has dumped the “Direct Action” moniker and described the new policy as a “Climate Solutions” package – even though it is evidently anything but.
Each of these initiative might be worthy in themselves, but as a package they do not come close to ushering in the sort of transformation needed to properly address climate change, or even to ensure that the energy transition taking place across the country is properly manage and facilitated.
There will be $2 billion for a repeat of the ERF that is funneling money to farmers to help with drought, land-care and re-vegetation, in a scheme that is also providing money for gas plants that would be built anyway and may be open to extensions of coal generators.
Iain MacGill, from the school of electrical engineering and telecommunications and the Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets at UNSW, said the Coalition had chosen to extend and expand one of Australia’s most questionable climate policies to date.
“We have no assurance that the ERF has really delivered all the Government’s claimed emission reductions from the scheme and, unfortunately, that would seem to be a feature, rather than a bug, of the mechanism design,” he said.
And there is another $1.5 billion to be spent over 10 years, also including initiatives likely to happen anyway.
This includes $56 million funding to help “fast-track” Tasmania’s “battery of the nation” project, and its Marinus link from the island state, which will likely not happen for another decade, and which in the absence of any policy support for renewables on the mainland might be the energy equivalent of offshore processing.
(Update: We have since read the feasibility study of the Marinus Link fast track proposal, and it says it only makes financial sense if Australia’s coal fleet is retired early and Australia adopts Labor’s emissions reduction target!!!!).
And there is a promise of an electric vehicle plan, but it so far contains a single page with absolutely no details, despite the deep references that could be found in the recently completed Senate inquiry,.
The Investor Group on Climate Change pointed out that the policy ignores the fundamental goal of Paris, which was to try and cap average global warming at well below 2°C and possibly as low as 1.5°.
“The government’s policy announcement today largely represents a business as usual announcement,” said Emma Herd, CEO of the ICCC. “Business as usual will not address the risks to the Australian economy that climate change represents nor will it unlock large scale-scale investment in zero emissions solutions.”
“In the electricity sector alone, over $1.3 billion dollars of investment is needed each and every year over the next 20 years to achieve emissions reductions in line with the Paris Agreement. Limited government funds will not unlock this, credible and durable energy and climate policy can.”
But in a government populated and advised by people who often see Co2 as no more sinister than plant food, and which seeks to demonise wind and solar and mock storage solutions such as batteries, this is as about as far as the Morrison government could go.
Morrison himself belongs to a church that believes climate change is God’s work.
And this is the sort of policy that might have been designed by the Minerals Council of Australia, the nation’s leading coal lobby which supplied the lump of lacquered coal Morrison brandished in parliament last year to the delight of his party and the man (the MCA’s former deputy CEO) who acts as his chief of staff.
Indeed, it comes just days after the Coalition endorsed modelling by one of the Minerals Council’s favourite modellers, Brian Fisher, which put a $470 billion price tag on Labor’s targets.
Morrison repeated those questionable findings in multiple television interviews on Monday, and said any higher targets would “crash the economy”. He added: “It is not needed”. In other words, he doesn’t accept the science.
Labor, which has a target of 50 per cent renewables by 2030, and a 45 per cent reduction in economy-wide emissions by the same date, said the re-birth of Abbott’s climate policy would simply see taxpayers footing the bills for big polluters.
“After five years and $2.25 billion spent, the ineffective Emissions Reduction Fund only saw pollution go up, and up, and up,” Opposition climate spokesman Mark Butler said.
“The Government’s own data shows carbon pollution levels have been rising since the election of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, with Australia on track to miss the Government’s already inadequate 2030 climate target of a 26 per cent cut in carbon pollution by a full 19 per cent.
“Throwing a further $2 billion of taxpayers money at Tony Abbott’s signature policy shows the Liberals will never take climate change seriously. If Scott Morrison was really serious about tackling climate change, he would dump his plans to spend even more taxpayers money on building new coal-fired power stations.”
Greens climate change and energy spokesperson Adam Bandt described the policy as an “expensive hoax” that had no plan to deal with coal.
“There’s nothing in this expensive fig-leaf that deals with coal, and if you don’t have a plan for coal, you’re not serious about climate change,” he said in a statement. “A climate policy that doesn’t deal with coal is like a car without wheels. It’s an expensive way of going nowhere.”
“In the electricity sector alone, over $1.3 billion dollars of investment is needed each and every year over the next 20 years to achieve emissions reductions in line with the Paris Agreement.* Limited government funds will not unlock this, credible and durable energy and climate policy can.”
Matthew Stocks, from the ANU, said making the electricity sector 100 per cent renewable is the cheapest and easiest way to enable Australia’s delivery of the Paris reduction targets and beyond.
“Renewable electricity unlocks low carbon transport and the displacement of gas which will be needed to deliver future targets,” he told RenewEconomy. “The renewable energy industry is at a scale ready to deliver these reductions but policy that supports the continued roll out of wind and PV is essential.”
Clean Energy Council boss Kane Thornton agreed:
“You have to ask yourself whether any climate policy that ignores Australia’s emissions-intensive energy sector is serious about doing the job. The PM’s Climate Solutions Package seems to neatly leapfrog the need to address the emissions from electricity generation, with the exception of the funding for a second cable linking the mainland and Tasmania.
“It also misses a golden opportunity to let the private sector do a lot of the heavy lifting on emissions reduction through investing in clean energy, while at the same time creating jobs in regional parts of the country.”
Even the business lobby was disappointed. Australian Industry Group CEO Innes Willox said it supported the ERF, but noted it was not a comprehensive or permanent approach to climate policy, and it would be expensive and impractical to try to make it so.
“Longer term policies for the rest of the economy will need to work efficiently, be trade neutral, and help underpin the investments needed across industry to achieve a net zero emissions future.”