In Australia, temperatures are on track for the hottest year on record. But observing the government’s recent actions and rhetoric on climate change gives another impression entirely.
Tony Abbott, the staunchly conservative Prime Minister, had an anti-climate agenda throughout his campaign over the summer. Since being elected in early September he has shown every indicator of following through with vows to scrap the country’s hard-won carbon emissions scheme. Then last week he seemingly shunned the UN climate talks, COP19 in Warsaw, by opting not to send a senior elected member of his government — a move that appears purely domestically motivated with little regard for the dire need of international cooperation in confronting climate change.
Delegates felt similarly about Abbott’s decision, and when Australia further revealed that it would not be putting any new finance commitments towards action on climate mitigation and adaptation programs in third world and developing countries, the country was duly awarded the conference’s very first Fossil of the Day award. The award signifies Australia’s seeming lack of understanding and sense of purpose around the climate talks. The decision was especially salient in the wake of the current tragedy unfolding in the Philippines after the devastating and record-breaking Super Typhoon Haiyan and emotional plea for action on climate change from Philippine representative Naderev “Yeb” Saño at the COP19.
This week Abbott continued his anti-climate crusade back home by abandoning Australia’s long-held emissions reduction target, taking further steps toward repealing the carbon emissions trading scheme, and even slashing funding for renewable energy.
Speaking on Wednesday evening, after introducing eight bills that attempt to dismantle the carbon emissions scheme, Abbott confirmed that his government had no intention of reducing Australia’s emissions by more than five percent below 2000 levels by 2020.
“We accept that climate change happens, that mankind, humanity, makes a contribution to it and it’s important that we take strong and effective action against it,” Abbott said. “This government has made no commitments to go further than that [five percent] and we certainly want to get emissions down as far as we reasonably can. But we are certainly in no way looking to make further binding commitments in the absence of very serious like-binding commitments in other countries and there’s no evidence of that.”
A recent report by the Climate Change Authority — the independent advisory body set up by the former Labor government — found that the Abbott-led Coalition’s own agreed conditions for a tougher emissions target have been met and that the five percent target will leave Australia facing a near-impossible emissions reduction task after 2020.
In response to Abbott’s recent moves, John Connor, CEO at the Climate Institute in Australia, said “Other countries aren’t waiting for binding international commitments to reduce pollution and invest in low carbon technologies — they are moving forward on their own accord. Australia has made international commitments to act in light with action of other countries. But our current action, and even five percent reductions, is inadequate when compared to countries like the US and China.”
Along with emissions reductions targets, renewable energy funding is also getting cut. The details of the Abbott government’s carbon tax repeal legislation revealed that funding for Australia’s AU$3 billion renewable energy agency will be cut by AU$435 million, a nearly 15 percent reduction.
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), from which the cuts will come, was set up to fund renewable energy projects and research. According to RenewEconomy, while the funding for this year is maintained, the funding for the next two years is barely one fifth of what is was originally meant to be.
The Clean Energy Council believes that deprivation of funds will hurt both the development of key technologies such as large-scale solar as well as emerging technologies such as solar thermal, marine energy, geothermal, and energy storage.
“The proposed changes to ARENA’s funding would mean that many renewable energy companies will consider moving off-shore where support for renewable energy innovation is both stronger and more stable,” deputy CEO Kane Thornton said in a statement.
The Abbott government favors a “direct action” plan over the current carbon emissions scheme, or carbon tax. Direct action includes an incentive fund to pay companies to increase energy efficiency along with other measures such as planting trees.
John Grimes, Chief Executive of the Australian Solar Council, told Solar Novus Today that he thinks the work that ARENA does is an excellent example of Direct Action.
“The solar industry takes the government at its word when it says it is committed to tackling climate change and supporting the renewable energy industry in Australia but so far we have only seen one half of the equation — the cuts. Where are the government’s positive policies for direct action on climate change?” Grimes said.
While most countries observe the Australian government’s recent anti-climate agenda and posturing both domestically and internationally with dismay, the Canadian government, led by Conservative PM Stephen Harper, applauded Abbott’s move to axe the carbon tax.
Like Abbott, Harper has secured power by catering to fossil-fuel interests and resisting any action the could potentially harm industry growth by limiting emissions in an effort to confront climate change.
“Canada applauds the decision by Prime Minister Abbott to introduce legislation to repeal Australia’s carbon tax,” Paul Calandra, Parliamentary Secretary to Harper, said in a statement. “The Australian Prime Minister’s decision will be noticed around the world and sends an important message.”