Just a few months ago, the newly constituted and Republican-dominated US Senate was asked to vote on a motion that “human activity significantly contributes to climate change.”
They voted against it. By a slim majority, 50-49, the senior conservative legislators in US Congress collectively declared that, well, climate science is crap.
In Australia’s ruling Coalition, that view is noisily shared by Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s closest advisors, such as Maurice (it’s all a UN plot) Newman and Dick (I’m not a climate skeptic, I just don’t accept the science) Warburton, and of course some rogue members of parliament such as Barnaby (it’s cold down here) Joyce.
Abbott, the man who made the “climate science is crap” phrase his own, doesn’t like to repeat it so much in public these days. Indeed, he has in environment minister Greg Hunt a man whose principal role seems to be Minister for Saying That The Coalition Really Takes Climate Change Seriously, despite its policies that suggest the opposite.
The budget handed down on Tuesday night by Treasurer Joe (I don’t like wind turbines) Hockey continues the recent trend of Coalition policy documents that sweeps the idea that Australia should be acting – urgently or otherwise – on climate action under the carpet.
The energy white paper, and even the discussion paper on emission reduction targets, assumed that the world would continue on business-as-usual and do nothing more to reduce emissions from a trajectory of warming the world by an average of 4°C, a scary outcome, scientists say, for many and particularly Australia.
In Australia, the government does not vote against climate science, it just ignores it. There is hardly any mention of climate change in the budget documents, apart from the Coalition’s continued determination to remove the phrase from the government’s lexicon, and to dismantle the remaining initiatives of Labor’s Clean Energy Package, presumably when if and when it wins the election in late 2016/17.
The budget papers confirm that spending for the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corp and the Climate Change Authority will be halted in fiscal 2016/17. Perversely, the CCA gains an extra year, presumably to conduct the nth review of the renewable energy target that the Coalition promised just a month ago it wouldn’t do. That uncertainty will continue to undermine investment in large-scale renewables in Australia.
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which funds emerging technologies such as wave energy, solar and storage, and off-grid systems, will also be absorbed back into the department and defunded.
Climate research is cut again, with National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility added to the list of climate and clean energy agencies to be wound up in 2017.
The only major spending on climate is the controversial Emissions Reduction Fund, the centerpiece of Direct Action, which still has another $1.7 million to spend on purchasing abatement from polluters, but no particular target to meet. Hunt insists that Australia will meet its 5 per cent reduction target, but no one else believes him.
The Green Army gets a $179 million kick along to pick up litter and do other worthy things that a conservative regards as environmental. That is $73 million less than had been planned, so that the government can spend an extra $100 million on the reef and “boosting water quality”.
That was the most positive thing that environmental groups could find in the budget. Mostly they lamented the climate and clean energy blindspot of the current regime. The National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility is added to the list of climate and clean energy agencies to be wound up in 2017
The biggest gripe of environmental groups was the retention of the Fuel Tax Credit Scheme, which they say amounts to a $7 billion per year federal government subsidy for diesel consumption.
“Motorists will continue to pay 38.9 cents and more in tax for every litre of fuel they buy, while some of the world’s largest mining companies, such as BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Glencore Xstrata, pay no tax at all on the fuel they use,” the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Kelly O’Shanassy said.
The ACF is also concerned about a $5 billion fund to be established by the Abbott government for developments in infrastructure in the northern regions, including railways, ports and power facilities. The ACF says it could turn out to be a “dirty energy finance corporation”.
“Even Abbott Government climate contrarian poster-boy Bjorn Lomborg has called to end fossil fuel handouts,” said Environment Victoria’s Mark Wakeham.
Newly elected Greens leader Richard di Natale described the 2015 Budget as a “visionless, small-minded document.”
“This budget’s biggest failure is what isn’t there. There’s no vision, no direction and no new sources of revenue from the big end of town,” Senator Di Natale said.
John Connor, the CEO of The Climate Institute, went further: “This budget is a continued assault on climate and clean energy programs and institutions. This budget locks in the benefits that polluters now have to continue polluting for free, while loading up taxpayers and a supposedly stressed budget with the task of paying for emissions reductions.”
Giles Parkinson is a journalist of 30 years experience, a former Business Editor and Deputy Editor of the Financial Review, a columnist for The Bulletin magazine and The Australian, and the former editor of Climate Spectator.