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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Coalition Climate Policy just "tinkering at the edges" say academics and scientists

While the politicians debate 5% emissions reduction under Kevin Rudd's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme or Tony Abbott's incentive based Emissions Reduction Fund, it may be instructive to go back to what the scientists say we need:
25-40% reduction in emissions by 2020 for a reasonable chance to avoid dangerous climate change and stay under 2 degrees warming.

"The good news", according to Peter Cosier, Director of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, "is that the Coalition has recognised that climate change is a problem. Until now they have been sending confusing messages."

"If Australia is to make its contribution to managing carbon pollution we need to reduce our net emissions by at least 25% by 2020 (and by between 80% and 95% by 2050). This policy doesn't get us anywhere near those targets." said Peter Cosier.

"If we are to avoid dangerous climate change, we need to effectively eliminate all carbon pollution from transport and energy generation within the next 40 years. The only way this can be achieved without causing major economic damage is to drive economic incentives into the energy and transport sectors, so that they begin the urgent transition into a carbon pollution free industrial system. This requires deep emission targets and a price on carbon to achieve such targets with the least short term economic cost and greatest long term economic benefits." said Cosier.

While an Emissions Trading System can be adjusted for greater emissions targets, the coalition's plan contains no plans for deeper cuts. "Cuts to emissions of far greater than 5% by 2020 are required to tackle the climate change issue - this policy does not appear to have any long term plans for deeper cuts into the future." said Dr Helen McGregor, Research Fellow in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at University of Wollongong.

Climate Institute CEO John Connor, described the Coalition plan "This is like a dose of 'carbon Viagra' for an aging, inefficient carbon intensive economy. While there are some positives, it's a high-risk strategy with no long-term plans beyond 2020." He also questioned whether a 5% reduction could be achieved under the plan and it has "no hope of delivering anything near 25% reductions by 2020, which is Australia's fair contribution to avoiding dangerous global climate change."

"The most disappointing aspect of the Coalition's policy is that it aims only to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions by five per cent." said Professor Ian Lowe, Emeritus professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University, Qld and President of the Australian Conservation Foundation.

"So it has effectively accepted disastrous climate change. The Bali Road Map set targets in the range of 25 to 40 per cent for countries like Australia to give the world a fighting chance of avoiding unacceptable impacts. We should be at the top of that range, since we haven't done the easy cost-effective things to cut emissions. As the alternative government, the Opposition has a duty to consider the long-term impacts of its policy. It appears constrained by its denial faction to propose only measures that are manifestly inadequate." said IanLowe.

Professor John Foster questioned the ability for the Coalition plan to even achieve its target, "Any policy that does not penalise 'base line' growth in emissions by firms and does not have a cap is very unlikely to achieve a 5% reduction target by 2020." he said.

"It is very encouraging to see that the Coalition has recognised, in a policy document, that carbon emissions are a problem, despite the presence of a number of climate change skeptics and deniers in the Party. However, the document looks suspiciously like a carefully constructed bit of politics in the run up to an election." he said.

"For a range of practical and political reasons, I am very doubtful that this policy, as it stands, would or could be implemented in July 2011 if the Coalition was elected to govern. Effective climate change policy is difficult to design and implement - it must involve the introduction of an emission trading scheme and/or a significant carbon tax. So the suggestion that it can be done easily and cheaply is unconvincing." said Professor Foster, who is from the School of Economics at the University of Queensland and is Vice-President of the Economics Society of Australia (Queensland Branch)

The essence of the Coalition Climate Change Action

The Coalition policy main points are:

  • $2.2 billion fund over 4 years Emissions Reduction Fund for subsidies for polluters to reduce emissions and penalties for increasing emissions more than "business as usual"

  • bio-sequestration through soil carbon

  • Solar initiatives including an extra $1,000 rebate for either solar panels or solar hot water systems capped at 100,000 per year.

  • $50million for Geothermal and Tidal Towns Initiative

  • planting 20 million trees for green corridors

The Coalition said their costing of $3.2 billion for the plan will come from budget cuts in other areas according to Coalition Finance spokeperson Senator Barnaby Joyce. So, we are looking at reduction in delivery of Federal government services and cuts to public service staffing levels.

Professor John Quiggin, Australian Research Council Federation Fellow in the school of economics at the University of Queensland said "The Liberal Party plan relies primarily on wishful thinking about the potential for near-costless gains from soil carbon. In the absence of adequate accounting systems, this proposal is vulnerable to massive rorting. The rest of the proposal consists if picking winners that seem likely to appeal to focus groups, rather than providing incentives to find the most cost-effective ways of reducing and offsetting carbon emissions. Taken as a whole, the package and its costings lack credibility."

"The plan includes a number of practical common sense measures for supporting energy efficiency, renewable energy and emission reduction by a number of key sectors. However, in total, it is merely tinkering around the edges and fails to clearly signal Australia's long term commitment to reduce carbon emission. Furthermore, it fails to provide certainty for industry to plan for a carbon constrained economy. " said Professor Wasim Saman who is Professor of Sustainable Energy Engineering and Director of the Sustainable Energy Centre at the University of South Australia

According to Tony Abbott "The Coalition will use the Emissions Reduction Fund to deliver about 85 million tonnes per annum of CO2 abatement through soil carbons by 2020 with an initial purchase of 10 million tonnes of abatement through soil carbons by 2012-13."

But Dr Frank Jotzo, Senior Lecturer at the Australian National University's Crawford School of Economics and Government, rebutted "Soil carbon improvements and research on bio-sequestration are worthwhile investments if implemented well, but they are not the answer to Australia's rising emissions from energy use. Neither are subsidies for more roof-top solar panels, which are one of the most expensive ways of saving carbon. What is needed is a strong and pervasive price signal to emitters, through an emissions trading system, perhaps starting with a fixed price to provide certainty in the start-up phase."

"Soil carbon does offer a genuine abatement opportunity, but it is one that also carries risks (how will the policy deal with unexpected emissions of soil carbon from bush fires, for example?). There is, of course, no reason why soil carbon could not be included in an emissions trading scheme -- the difference is probably one of emphasis and relative confidence in potential abatement outcomes." said David Pearce, Executive Director of The Centre for International Economics in Canberra.

20 million trees to plant while old growth carbon dense forests are logged

While the coalition "commits to the planting of an additional 20 million trees by 2020" the Wilderness Society's climate change negotiator Peg Putt took them to task about protection of Victorian and Tasmanian old growth forests - some of the world's most carbon dense.

"Planting 20 million trees sounds nice but it will be many years before they make any real contribution to reducing emissions. The emissions cuts on offer by intervening to protect the huge old native trees and soils of unlogged forests are available now and they wouldn't come at a cost to consumers." Ms Putt said, "Protecting those forests and the carbon stored in the trees and soils would help Australia not just meet its ridiculously small commitment to reduce emissions by 5 per cent, but it would help make much deeper cuts."

The forestry record of the Coalition was attacked by Greens Leader, Senator Bob Brown, "The Howard government legislated the destruction of Australia's biggest carbon banks - in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia, largely for woodchip export to Japan, converting these forests into greenhouse gases. If Mr. Abbott or Prime Minister Rudd were to end the destruction they would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 15-20%. '

"Planting 20 million seedlings while cutting millions of trees in mature forests is an Abbott absurdity," Senator Brown said.

Senator Christine Milne, the Greens climate change spokeperson, commented "Both Mr Rudd and Mr Abbott have studiously avoided making polluters pay, avoided the tremendous potential of protecting Australia's forest carbon stores and avoided the reality of what climate science demands,"

"Tony Abbott wants to hand-pick which industries or projects are the beneficiaries of what will be a massive funds transfer out of schools and hospitals and into aluminium smelters and new coal fired power stations. This is a 'tried and failed' approach, based on John Howard's Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program, which was slammed by the Auditor General but loved by polluters looking for greenwash. It failed because it paid polluters to do what they were going to do anyway." she said.

Stopping logging of native forests and land clearing were also effectively ignored as immediate sources of emission reductions according to Senator Milne, with a narrow emphasis on soil carbon, "While we are as excited as anybody about the potential of soil carbon, there are very big questions about its permanence and accounting. That is no excuse for ignoring it, but it would be folly to rely on this one area as the centrepiece of an emissions reduction strategy.

"It is, of course, difficult to give credit to Mr Abbott's scheme when he so recently told us he thinks that a 4C temperature rise is not catastrophic." she concluded, in reference to a speech by Tony Abbott made in Adelaide in late January that a four degree rise in temperature would not be catastrophic.


Takver is a citizen journalist from Melbourne who has been writing on Climate Change issues and protests including Rising Sea Level, Ocean acidification, Environmental and social Impacts since 2004.