Coalition trashes climate bodies and Australia’s reputation in opening days of Government

Intro

Tony Abbott’s first major act as Prime Minister of Australia has been to scrap the Climate Commission, draw up legislation to abolish the Climate Change Authority (CCA), and again direct the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to halt its work. The coalition claims the moves are to streamline process and improve the national budget.  However, moves to stop the CEFC’s work could also be met with legal challenges, with one prominent Barrister dubbing the directive that the institution stop work is illegal without new legislation. The Coalition has attacked  clean energy, key climate institutions and carbon pricing programs in its opening days of office despite serious questions around the viability of its replacement policy. This is a threat to Australia’s international reputation during a critical time in the global climate change discussions. The Majuro Declaration has passed with Australian support, the next major report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is due for release on September 27, and there has been a strong push by the climate denier movement to muddy the waters before the IPCC report lands. Australia moving backwards on climate change at a time of increasing certainty has been dubbed “shameful” by Labor’s Anthony Albanese, and does not bode well for upcoming international climate negotiations.

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RT @djspratt: @GregHuntMP Trying to hide #climate problem by silencing #Climate Commission won’t stop the warming or disappear the problem

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Key Points

Tony Abbott has wasted no time and made his first major acts as Prime Minister closing down the Climate Commission, drafting legislation to shutter the Climate Change Authority (CCA), and illegally directing the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to halt its duties. Barrister Stephen Keim, SC, says it is unlawful for the new government to tell the CEFC to cease operations until, as with the CCA, legislation is enacted.

The coalition claims to be dismantling the Climate Commission and Clean Energy Finance Corporation to streamline processes and improve the budget position, however, this argument is unconvincing at best given the Commission’s miniscule relative cost, and the fact that the CEFC actually provides a return on investment four times larger than what it outlays. Axing the Climate Commission saves $580,000 for 2013-2014, and $1.6 million for the remainder of its five-year term, while the CEFC has so far invested about $500m in projects worth $2bn. CEFC investments will reduce carbon emissions while generating $2.40 per tonne of carbon dioxide in returns for the government.

By abolishing the current carbon pricing laws – and climate bodies that provide key advice and public information on climate change – without having a credible alternative in place, the Coalition is risking Australia’s international reputation and could undermine global climate action. To achieve the bipartisan 5 to 25 percent on 2000 levels by 2020 greenhouse gas reduction target, international obligations on climate action, and uphold new commitments such as the Majuro declaration, the Government must prove its “Direct Action” scheme can deliver the needed emissions cuts before rolling back legislation already proven to be effective.

Background

When Labor was elected in 2007, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s first order of business was to sign Kyoto. In stark contrast, Coalition leader Tony Abbott’s first major act upon being sworn in as Prime Minister has been to scrap the Climate Commission, a respected independent body set up to communicate the complexities of climate science to the public.

While the Coalition may be making good on an election promise, it is an inauspicious start for a leader with a reputation for climate denial, particularly as it comes in the midst of a concerted misinformation campaign by climate deniers in the lead up to the next major report release from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) next week.

Misinformation being spread about the IPCC fifth report risks turning the increasingly robust scientific case for human-induced global warming and climate change into a bad game of chinese whispers, proving that independent bodies such as the Climate Commission are needed more than ever.

Prime Minister Abbott has also given the order for legislation to be drawn up to abolish the Climate Change Authority (CCA) and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC). The CCA is a statutory body cannot be axed without a change in legislation, so it is continuing work on an important draft report for release in October which will detail international efforts to combat climate change and recommend the level of cuts to greenhouse gas emissions Australia should set.

The Coalition has now twice written to the CEFC to warn it to cease its work despite it also requiring legislation to be passed to change its mandate. The directive could expose the Government to legal actions according to a leading barrister, Stephen Keim, SC, who says it is unlawful for the new government to tell the CEFC to cease operations without new legislation.

The Government is moving to scrap climate related bodies for what it claims is an attempt to streamline processes and ease pressure on the national budget. However, the $580,000 for 2013-2014, and $1.6 million for the remainder of its five-year term is pocket change for the national budget for what is a hugely important function. Likewise, the abolition of the CEFC for budgetary concerns is an illogical claim, given that the $500m in projects out of its total $2bn budget are already projected to return four times outlay. The CEFC says its investments will reduce carbon emissions while generating $2.40 per tonne of carbon dioxide in returns.

The push to abolish these two bodies on the same day, so early into the government’s term, is clearly a considered effort to send a message, and also reveals it is not serious on climate change according to some commentators.

The ramifications of the Coalition’s push to demolish Labor’s climate change laws and replace them with its own vague, incomplete, and roundly criticised “Direct Action” policy are already being noted by agencies such as Bloomberg, which claims Australia is “at risk of breaching a global agreement to cut greenhouse gases” and “emboldening opponents” if carbon pricing is repealed.

Tony Abbott’s moves to pull down climate bodies and carbon pricing also coincide with what HSBC is describing as a “new phase in global climate action”, which will see Australia left behind given its retrograde climate agenda and 1950’s energy policy.

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Key quotes

  • “We’ve stayed out of the politics and stuck to the facts. As a result we’ve developed a reputation as a reliable apolitical source of facts on all aspects of climate change. I believe that Australians have a right to know – a right to authoritative, independent and accurate information on climate change.” Former chief climate commissioner, Professor Tim Flannery.
  • “It’s really important that the Australian public have access to authoritative, independent, accurate information on climate change, and that’s exactly what the Climate Commission did. Unfortunately, the science has been sucked into this vortex of a highly politicised approach to climate change. We’ve got a rapidly destabilising climate. It does pose risks for us.” Climate Commissioner and ANU Professor Will Steffen.
  • “The CEFC’s activities cannot be terminated by executive action. If given some unlawful direction by the responsible ministers (or anyone else) to cease operations or some aspect of its operations, the board would be obliged to ignore that direction.” Barrister-at-Law Stephen Keim, SC.
  • “The Climate Change Authority was set up to de-politicise the process of setting greenhouse emission reduction targets. Everyone knows that a 5 percent emission reduction target is woefully inadequate. Shutting down the Climate Change Authority, ahead of its first report on fair and science based emission reduction targets for Australia, is cowardly and an attack on current and future generations.” Greens leader Senator Christine Milne.
  • “People who want a reason not to implement some form of emissions reduction would be able to point to Australia and say: they haven’t, why should we? That’s the whole thing about international agreements. Once one party decides not to put forward a stronger commitment that was expected, it’s an excuse for others.” Carbon regulations for electricity, LNG and coal specialist at Allens, Grant Anderson.
  • “The new Coalition government is faced with enormous structural issues that have been camouflaged by effective propaganda and supported by well-organised elements in the public service, the media, the universities, trade unions and the climate establishment. With a huge vested interest in the status quo, they will be vocal opponents of change. The CSIRO, for example, has 27 scientists dedicated to climate change. It and the Weather Bureau have become global warming advocates. They continue to propagate the myth of anthropological climate change and are likely to be background critics of the Coalition’s Direct Action policies.” Tony Abbott’s Business Advisory Group chair Maurice Newman.
  • “The CEFC will continue to operate within its legislative framework to meet its existing legal and contractual obligations, including in relation to payments. The CEFC Board and the executive officers appreciate the Government’s stated intentions and are committed to working with the Government in accordance with the correct and proper legal processes.” CEFC CEO Oliver Yates.

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More tweets

  • MT @FogartyClimate: When Australians need independent advice on #climate new gov aims to cut Climate Change Authority http://t.co/Bpeuev35uw
  • MT @SwannyQLD: Abbott taking the axe 2 top public servants shows the type of Gov he’ll lead: one that ignores independent & impartial advice
  • MT @AustralianLabor: @KRuddMP first act was to sign Kyoto. @TonyAbbottMHR is to abolish climate commission #auspol
  • MT @5MillionPeople: The Abbott Gov has scrapped the Climate Commission, created to inform the public on #climate Act: http://t.co/4mBU5NX2Sa
  • RT @ABCenvironment: That was quick! RT @melanie_james: @ABCenvironment this twitter user @ClimateComm does not exist :(
  • RT @agentdeclan: First Abbott came for the carbon traders, and I said nothing because what even is a carbon? #auspol #abbottcuts
  • RT @bencubby: Tim Flannery warns of a rising tide of propaganda from #climate skeptics. http://t.co/29aDXquCtR