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Australia’s New Government Puts Its Head Back In The Sand On Climate Change

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"Australia’s New Government Puts Its Head Back In The Sand On Climate Change"

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New Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot

New Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott

CREDIT: AP/Patrick Hamilton

Australia’s newly-elected Liberal National Coalition has made good on its campaign trail promise to cut the country’s climate commission, the independent panel of experts created by the government to provide information to Australians on how climate change is affecting the country.

The Coalition, led by Tony Abbott, says the work the climate commission does should fall to the country’s Department of Environment, and that cutting the commission will save the government money — about $1.6 million each year.

Tim Flannery, the head of the climate commission, said the decision to ax the group was “dismaying.” He said he didn’t think the work of the climate commission, a group which included an advisory panel of scientists as well as an economist and businessman, could be replicated by other government departments.

“[Climate change] is a grave threat, but a threat that can be overcome,” he said in Melbourne this week. “We desperately need a well-informed public, especially in areas of complex policy. Without an informed public, we will go astray.”

The timing, he said, also couldn’t have been worse. Australia has been wracked by extreme weather events in recent years — most notably wildfires, drought and heat waves — and those events are likely to continue as the planet warms.

“We’ve just seen one of the earliest ever starts to the bushfire season in Sydney following the hottest twelve months on record,” Flannery said.

Since its creation in 2011, the climate commission has published 27 reports on a range of subjects relating to climate change, including regional impacts, renewable energy and opportunities for Australia to adapt to and mitigate the problem. The Angry Summer outlined the record-breaking heat, bush fires and flooding the country experienced during the summer of 2012-2013 — a 90-day period in which at least 123 weather records were broken. The Critical Decade, released in April 2013, linked Australia’s extreme weather to climate change and made clear that it would only get worse if swift action wasn’t taken on climate change.

It’s not just the climate commission that the new government wants to do away with. It also wants to cut the Climate Change Authority, which was set up in 2012 to advise the government on the carbon emissions reductions targets, as well as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. In his victory speech, new Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has called the scientific argument for climate change “complete crap,” also promised to eliminate Australia’s carbon tax within three years. Abbott’s plan to reduce emissions in the country is based around providing $3 billion in grants and subsidies to encourage energy efficiency — a plan that modelling has shown is unlikely to produce a substantial cut in emissions.

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