Tony Abbott's "direct action" dud

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In part one of this series, the climate change policies of the Labor Party were examined and found wanting. In this part, Doug Evans examines the Coalition's climate change policies and finds them to be even less impressive still.

[Read Part One: The Labor Party’s climate change policy failure]

Is there a climate change solution in Tony Abbott's "Real Solutions" plan?

In the Liberal Party’s election pamphlet Real Solutions for Australians the Party commits to taking:

'...direct action to reduce carbon emissions inside Australia, not overseas — and also establish a 15,000-strong green army to clean-up the environment.’

One of the main tasks intended for the green army is proposed to be plantation tree planting for purposes of carbon storage.

Widely known as the Direct Action Policy (DAP) this ‘policy’ comprises:

  • An “Emissions Reduction Fund” of $3 billion to fund projects that would reduce carbon emissions, based on a tender process.

  • Support for projects such as “soil carbon technologies and abatement”.

  • A commitment to reducing carbon emissions by 5 percent by 2020.

    In my assessment of Labor Party climate policy, I showed the inadequacy of the bipartisan 5% emissions reduction target. This time, I will address the likelihood that the measures nominated in the DAP could achieve even this modest emissions reduction.

    The amount of abatement that a $3 billion emissions reduction fund might purchase is uncertain. The $5.5 billion Contracts for Closure fund under the Gillard Government’s Clean Energy Futures legislation was unable to bring about any reduction in Victoria’s polluting brown coal fired power generation and was abandoned by the government. Given this fact, it must be unlikely that it will have any effect at all.

    The DAP is based in large measure on the unproven assumption that soil carbon storage and $3 billion in funding for emissions reduction projects could reduce Australia’s carbon emissions by any amount — let alone by 5 per cent.

    The CSIRO’s review into soil carbon storage casts doubt over this assumption. It concludes that despite the theoretical potential of storage of carbon in agricultural soils, research is currently inadequate to quantify this.

    Writing in Nature Climate Change, a group of seven Australian and UK climate researchers, including Climate Commissioner Prof. Will Steffen, have gone further. They concluded that considering carbon storage on land as a means to offset CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels is ‘scientifically flawed’.

    They conclude that:

    ‘Avoiding emissions from land carbon stocks and refilling depleted stocks reduces atmospheric CO2 concentration, but the maximum amount of this reduction is equivalent to only a small fraction of potential fossil fuel emissions.’

    The Guardian reports research showing that for the DAP's proposed tree planting to achieve the pledged return of an annual 85 million tonnes of CO2 captured, even using the most optimistic assumptions about growth and yield, would require a planted area more than twice the size of Melbourne. Under 'real world' conditions the area would be somewhat larger again increasing both the anticipated cost and management complexity of this massive undertaking.

    Irrespective of the inadequacy of the bipartisan emissions reduction target, the question is: why would the Coalition propose such a useless policy?

    It is puzzling. The only serious possibility – incredible as it seems – is that, from the point of view of the Opposition, the policy is a non-answer to a non-existent problem. They recognize the political necessity for a climate change policy but actually don’t believe it is happening!

    As blogger Alex White points out:

    In addition to saying “climate change is crap“, in a more considered interview with the ABC’s Four Corners, Tony Abbott said:

    "I have pointed out in the past that there was that high year a few years ago and the warming, if you believe various measuring organisations, hasn’t increased … the point is not the science, the point is how should government respond, and we have a credible response."

    If you don’t believe that global warming is real, then the “direct action” policy could be considered “credible”. An increasing number of Coalition front-benchers and senior back-benchers are climate denialists.

    Senator Cory Bernardi, in between comparing same-sex marriage to bestiality, has declared climate change science to be “increasingly discredited”. Kevin Andrews has expressed doubts about the human factor in climate change. Almost all Tasmanian Liberal senators have expressed the same doubts — Stephen Parry, Guy Barnett, Eric Abetz and David Bushby. The ABC reported that former Liberal senator and Abbott mentor, Nick Minchin said “a majority [of Coalition MPs] don’t accept” that human activity is causing climate change.

    It seems that Tony Abbott has taken as his main scientific advisor on climate change the discredited denialist Ian Plimer — a geologist by training. Abbott has ignored the advice of the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology — two leading climate research institutes — as well as the Australian Academy of Science’s report on the science of climate change.’ It should be noted that in addition to Minchin Abbott has appointed as his industry spokesman former Chairman of the ABC Maurice Newman whose climate change denialism is on the public record and who regards wind power as a crime against the people.

    As Guardian blogger and DeSmogBlog regular Graham Readfearn has noted, the DAP directly mirrors a plan developed by Alan Moran director of the Deregulation unit in the far right industry propaganda outfit the Institute of Public Affairs, a leading promoter of climate science denial and misrepresentation. The links between the secretive IPA and the Liberal Party are documented by the Climate Action Network in a 2010 report entitled ‘Doubting Australia: the roots of Australia’s climate denial’:

    The IPA’s extensive connections to the Liberal party go back decades. Today this includes its executive director, John Roskam, a Liberal party powerbroker, and former Howard government staffer, who has run for election on several occasions. Its board chair is former Senator in the Howard Government, Rod Kemp. On its board are former Victoria Liberal party president Michael Kroger, and former Rio Tinto and liberal party PR advisor Tim Duncan, who now works for Hintons PR.

    Lest there be any doubt about these links, Abbott’s speech to the gala dinner celebrating the 70th anniversary of the IPA in April this year should dispel them. Also attending this glorious event at Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria, were prominent Coalition MPs Greg Hunt (Shadow Minister for Climate Change), George Brandis, Bronwyn Bishop and Cory Bernardi.

    The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg in February reported that anonymous billionaires are funding climate denialist networks to the tune of $120 million:

    ‘The funds, doled out between 2002 and 2010, helped build a vast network of thinktanks and activist groups working to a single purpose: to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarising “wedge issue” for hardcore conservatives.’

    The extent to which the IPA has benefited from this global largesse is unknown, but it is known that the IPA's funding has tripled since the year 2000.

    The most honest assessment of the Coalition’s climate policy, ironically, comes from Malcolm Turnbull. In 2009, then-backbencher Turnbull, then recently defeated by Abbott in a leadership ballot, wrote in an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald that the policy was ‘bullshit’:

    …the fact is that Tony and the people who put him in his job do not want to do anything about climate change. They do not believe in human caused global warming. As Tony observed on one occasion “climate change is crap” or if you consider his mentor, Senator Minchin, the world is not warming, it’s cooling and the climate change issue is part of a vast left wing conspiracy to de-industrialise the world.

    The Liberal Party is currently led by people whose conviction on climate change is that it is ‘crap’ and you don’t need to do anything about it. Any policy that is announced will simply be a con, an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing. After all, as Nick Minchin observed, in his view the majority of the Party Room do not believe in human caused global warming at all.

    Lenore Taylor from The Guardian has posed a number of so far unanswered questions regarding the DAP. They are highly relevant but will, of course, remain unanswered because the policy is designed not to achieve any climatically useful outcome.

    The Liberal Party’s DAP is dangerous for Australia. It guarantees a future of super-storms, heatwaves, droughts, extreme floods, rising sea levels, ocean acidification and bushfires. It locks in the destruction of our agricultural capacity. Consistent with the apparent climate change denialism of coalition MPs, The Guardian also reports that some in the Coalition are calling for the other safeguard of our environmental future the mandatory renewable energy target to be reviewed or scrapped.

    According to the Bureau of Meteorology, in the 2012-13 summer, Australia registered:

    • the warmest September–March on record

    • the hottest summer on record, the hottest month on record

    • the hottest day on record .

    • Australia's "Angry Summer". (Image courtesy climatecommission.gov.au)

      The changing climate will continue to have a serious impact on Australia in future years. The Climate Institute, the somewhat ironically funded by a philanthropic fund bankrolled by Rupert Murdoch’s sister Anne Kantor, rated the seriously inadequate Labor Clean Energy Future package as 2.5 stars out of a possible five. There seems something wrong with a methodology that gives a bare pass mark to climate policies that guarantee runaway climate change but, nevertheless, that is what it finds. Using the same methodology, the Liberal Party’s Direct Action Plan rated just one lonely star out of five.

      Australians thinking about which Party to vote for in 2013 should know what Tony Abbott’s true intentions are on climate policy. Potential Liberal voters concerned about the climate crisis should consider their vote very carefully. If Abbott and his colleagues form the next government and are able to implement their policies, we will be almost at the end of the critical decade that ends in 2020 before any meaningful action can be undertaken.

      It seems to me that we either use the limited power of our vote to push for increased tightening of climate policies or we are complicit in wrecking our future.

      I can’t find any other way to put it.

      No point blaming Gina Rinehart and Andrew Bolt et al if we are not prepared to do anything ourselves. How bad must things get before those who see the problem begin to demand effective action from our elected leaders? Now the 7 September election presents all Australians with a chance to demand better from our elected leaders.

      For the time being, whatever our political persuasion, we must all be single issue voters. The voting options that I see are these:

      1. If you are a Coalition voter and seriously concerned about climate change you face a difficult choice. This article reveals their fraudulent, a deliberate attempt to mislead voters. You either swallow your concerns about your future and that of your children and grandchildren, voting again as you have always done. Or you look around for the most effective policy. You won’t be happy when you find where it is.

      2. If you are a Labor voter and seriously concerned about climate change your choice is fairly simple I would say. If you accept the assessments I have made, you wish to continue to support the Labor Party but wish to send them a message that they need to lift their game, you should vote Green with Labor second. You can comfortably do this in the knowledge that in all House of Representatives seats, with one possible exception, your vote will end up supporting Labor. The message will have been sent and noted.

      3. If you are a Green voter concerned about climate change, you vote for your party in the knowledge that they are advocating for the strongest policies.

      4. I will assess the climate change policies of the Australian Greens in the third and final instalment of this series.

        [Editor's note (10/8/13 4pm): The original text for this piece suggested that the Coalition's 'Green Army' would be involved in tree planting necessary to achieve the 85 million tonnes of carbon sequestration annually. It has been pointed out to the author by the researcher whose work was referenced that this is not so. Accordingly reference to this has been removed from the text as published by IA.]

        This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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