Malcolm Turnbull: Verbal acrobatics required for Paris climate talks

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Malcolm Turnbull will need to utilise his obvious talent for rhetoric to convince a global audience at the Paris climate talks in November, as there is no substance to the Government's "Direct Action" climate policy, says Noel Wauchope.

Australia's new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has an appealing and glib turn of phrase. He's going to need that talent when he speaks at the United Nations Paris Climate Conference in late November.

The thing is, Malcolm has to sell to the conference Australia's current policy on climate change. The Government's “Direct Action” climate policy is unchanged, despite the departure of climate sceptic Tony Abbott. Its flagship is the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF).

The ERF boils down to tax-payer handouts to polluting companies that volunteer to cut their greenhouse emissions. There is no enforcement policy, meaning that the companies get the money, and for a year or more, do not need to show that they have reduced emissions.

After a year, the government proposes a 'safeguards mechanism', to be explained fully then, so allowing the companies plenty of leeway to lobby to make it meaningless. 

The plan is to cut greenhouse emissions by five per cent of the 1990 levels by 2020. The Climate Change Authority recommended a 20 per cent cut. There's no plan for beyond 2020.

The Liberal Coalition's direct action climate plan replaced Labor’s 2012 climate legislation, which aimed to reduce Australia's carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2050, using a carbon tax. That policy in action resulted in a dramatic decline in Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. Environment Minister Greg Hunt has lately been boasting about this decline but it is not attributable to the policies of the current government. 

And here's the problem. Both within Australia and internationally, people are not taken in by our government's hype about its climate change credentials.

The Sydney Morning Herald expressed the opinion of many commentators: 

‘Direct Action transfers emission cutting costs from polluters to taxpayers.’

The United Nations 2014 Emissions Gap Report states:

‘Australia had been on track to meet its pledge in part through its carbon pricing mechanism, but this mechanism was abolished on 1 July 2014.’ [Australia's] new government replaced carbon-pricing mechanism with Emission Reduction Fund. This results in an increase in projected emissions for 2020.’

Graham Readfern, writing in The Guardian last September, summed up Turnbull's problem:

‘During the first few days of being prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull seems to be doing his best to argue about climate change with a former version of himself.’

What happened to Turnbull? Mark Kenny & James Massola wrote in The Age in February:

‘Amid feverish speculation over the leadership, unconfirmed reports also claimed Mr Turnbull had moved to assuage fears in the conservative wing of the party that his return to the leadership would see a reprise of the carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme. It was claimed Mr Turnbull had promised, in a secret deal, that there would be no such reprise if elected.’

More recently, Kenny expressed it in this way:

‘Turnbull has his hands tied, having lost the leadership in 2009 to Abbott for supporting emissions trading, and then having regained it in 2015 on the express condition of opposing it. Release from such Houdini-esque chains will take some doing.’

On coal, Malcolm has been talking about "energy poverty" and the duty to alleviate it, saying,

"coal is going to play a big part in that." 

On nuclear, he's in favour of the South Australian nuclear waste import plan.   


Turnbull's support for nuclear waste dumping in Australia might go down okay at the Paris talks. There will be a strong push there for nuclear power to be portrayed as cure for a climate change. At present, "new nuclear" is hamstrung in the U.S. because there has to be a waste solution before it can go ahead. 

Idaho Congressman and chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, Mike Simpson, put it like this

“Not having a solution for the long term storage of nuclear waste in the U.S. is constipating the nuclear energy sector."

If Australia were willing to solve the problem by welcoming radioactive trash from the United States, this could mean that the long held dream of a nuclear renaissance might come true. The nuclear lobby certainly hopes for that. So that's one area where Turnbull might possibly get a positive hearing. 

However, to persuade the world on Australia's entire climate inaction package is a task that will demand Turnbull's very best linguistic acrobatics. 

This is the man who said in 2010:

We as humans are conducting a massive science experiment with this planet. It’s the only planet we’ve got ... We know that the consequences of unchecked global warming would be catastrophic. We know that extreme weather events are occurring with greater and greater frequency and while it is never possible to point to one drought or one storm or one flood and say that particular incident is caused by global warming, we know that these trends are entirely consistent with the climate change forecasts with the climate models that the scientists are relying on…. We as a human species have a deep and abiding obligation to this planet and to the generations that will come after us.

Tony Abbott might have found the Paris meeting easier, as he never seemed to be aware of how he was perceived by international observers.                                                                                                                                                            Image by Noel Wauchope

Malcolm Turnbull faces an epic task to keep faith with Liberal Coalition climate denialists, while making Australia’s pathetic climate policy look at all reasonable to the global audience.                                                                                                                               

Read more by Noel Wauchope at antinuclear.net and nuclear-news.net.

You can follow Noel on Twitter @ChristinaMac1.                                                                                                                                            

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