by Jenny Goldie
After a disappointing start, Malcolm Turnbull’s new Cabinet he may yet do the right thing on climate change, according to Climate Action Monaro (CAM).]
Environmental organisations like CAM had held high hopes for the new Prime Minister but Turnbull’s statements on climate change on the night of his election dashed those hopes. Despite once calling the Coalition’s Direct Action policy “fiscal recklessness on a grand scale”, Turnbull said at his first media conference after election that Direct Action “very well designed; a very, very good piece of work”.
Turnbull also said, confirmed by his Deputy Julie Bishop, that his government would stick to the post-2020 emission reduction targets. These are considered relatively weak, particularly compared to what the Climate Change Authority (CCA) had recommended. The Government aims for 26-28 per cent emissions reduction on 2005 levels by 2030, which is equivalent to around 20 per cent reduction compared to the CCA’s recommended 40-60 per cent on 2000 levels.
In addition, Turnbull condemned Labor’s target of 50 per cent power from renewables by 2030 as “reckless”, despite most independent commentators deeming it to be achievable and affordable.
Perhaps most disappointing, however, was Turnbull’s rejection of an Emissions Trading Scheme, even though he had been committed to one when Environment Minister in 2007 and Opposition leader in 2009.
CAM President Ms Jenny Goldie says this all suggested that Turnbull had done deals with the conservative right wing faction and with the Nationals in order to secure the leadership.
“There is a disconnect between such backroom deals and community expectations,” says Ms Goldie. “Polls indicate that nearly two thirds of the Australian public wants strong targets to take to the Paris climate change talks at the end of the year.
“Nevertheless, the composition of the new Cabinet suggests that there is an opportunity for Turnbull to redeem himself. Former Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane, who had dragged his feet on introducing renewable energy industries, has gone to the backbench.
“Responsibility for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has gone to the Environment Minister Greg Hunt. This suggests they may be safe from the axe which former Prime Minister Abbott was trying to wield against them, only to be stopped by the Senate.”
Ms Goldie says Greg Hunt had not performed well with respect to climate change policy under Abbott but may have more freedom to be effective under Turnbull.
“Let us hope Turnbull is serious when he says his policies will be science-based. If that is the case, why not restore funding to CSIRO and insist that funds be directed to renewable energy research and development such as concentrated solar thermal? This would provide base-load power and allow the mothballing of ageing coal-fired power stations.”
Ms Goldie says that the comments by Arthur Sinodinos on ABC-TV’s Insider program on Sunday, when asked about renewable energy, were encouraging. Sinodinos had replied, saying: “…we’re about having as many industries as we can get that are competitive as possible and generate as many jobs as possible.”
“The Abbott Government consistently failed to recognise that renewable industries have the potential to create thousands of new jobs,” says Ms Goldie.
“Turnbull must heed what US President Obama has said about his peers, namely, that if they did not take climate change seriously, they were ‘unfit to lead’.
“Australia had taken on pariah status at the preparatory climate change talks in the lead up to Paris. The weak post-2020 targets were not enough to offset the disaster of the repeal of the carbon tax,” says Ms Goldie.
“Let us hope that Turnbull will go to Paris to indicate he really is committed to climate change action,” says Ms Goldie. “This is a critical meeting at which the global community must take decisive action to keep global warming below the agreed 2oC guardrail, although even that may not be sufficient to avert dangerous climate change.”
Ms Goldie said she was disturbed about a report last week from Climate Action Tracker that holding global warming to 2oC was not feasible and that 1.5oC was ‘beyond reach’.