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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Climate science and clean energy suffer under first Abbott budget

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey used the federal government's first budget to continue the assault on scientific research, climate change infrastructure, and clean energy programs to devastate the fledgling renewables industry breaking several electoral promises along the way. This will have long term impacts for responding to and mitigating climate change, pushing even greater costs of action on future governments and future generations.

As leader of the Greens Senator Christine Milne observed, "The words environment and climate change did not appear once in budget speech."

And in the short term the budget reduces spending on health, education and social welfare which hit low and middle income earners particularly hard by making drastic and substantial cuts to 89 different health and social welfare programs to save $80 billion over the next 4 years.

The result: these policies increase social inequity on the short and the longer term.

Already we have seen tens of thousands of people opposing the budget measures as students protesting the move to privatise higher education and March in May demonstrations (Photos at the Guardian).

As well as slating for removal the carbon price, the Climate Change Authority and Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Government has also decided to break it's promise and axe the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). In their place they are funding to the tune of $2.55 billion their Emissions Reduction Fund which will be an avenue for handouts to large corporations for carbon abatement.

Analysis of budget documents by the Climate Institute shows that nearly the entire 5 per cut in emissions by 2020 target would be left to the final two years of the decade under the funding plan laid out in the budget, according to this report in the Sydney Morning Herald. The Climate Institute says the government would only reduce Australia's emissions by 60 million tonnes by 2018 - just a seventh of what is required by 2020. The final two years would involve the mammoth task of reducing the remaining 360 million tonnes needed to hit the 2020 target. This strategy clearly ignores the greater benefits gained from earlier reductions due to the long life accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

John Connor CEO of the Climate Institute commented:

When it comes to climate action and a cleaner economy, this is a backwards budget. “It’s an attempt to undo the good progress Australia has made recently in cutting carbon pollution, growing renewable energy jobs and taking advantage of our abundant solar, wind and other renewable resources.” “The biggest backward step is the intended repeal of the carbon laws. This would give polluters a free pass on their pollution, and costs the Government over $12.5 billion of carbon revenue over the forward estimates.”

“Taxpayers are then to fork out over $2.5 billion for the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) to buy pollution reductions. All this while the Government works out if or how it will ensure reductions from big polluters.” “Taxpayers are being asked to buy an at best half formed carbon pollution policy from Government, and bin a credible alternative.

The One million solar roofs program that was promised to be funded at $50 million has not been funded, but with funding for seven solar towns to the tune of $2.1 million over the next four years.

John Grimes CEO from the Australian Solar Council heavily criticised the budget and the Government's broken promises:

“"The Budget has delivered a trifecta of broken promises to the solar industry. “The Government promised the Australian people an additional million solar roofs by 2020. The Budget contains no funding to make this happen. A Million Solar Roofs is a mirage.

“The Government promised to maintain the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) but, instead, the Budget has delivered a death warrant for ARENA. Unless the Senate stands up to the Government, ARENA will be abolished.

“The Government promised to maintain the Renewable Energy Target but every indication is this key policy will also be thrown on the scrapheap.

“The Budget is a boulevard of broken dreams for the solar industry. World-leading solar research and development will now end. For decades, Australian solar researchers have led the world, developing the solar technologies of today and the future, but that all ends today.

“Whilst the Government defends billions of dollars of fuel subsidies for wealthy miners, it has abolished our world-leading solar research. The Budget rips $1.3 billion from ARENA, making a combined $1.8 billion that has been ripped from the agency since the Government was elected. “The Abbott Government needs to explain to all Australians why it has made a trifecta of broken promises.”"

National Environment Research and Climate Science programs are to be combined with a $20 million budget cut. But funding for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility at $9 million will be maintained.

There is substantial funding of infrastructure nearly all on roads with no funding for more urban or regional public transport. Mark Wakeham, CEO of Environment Victoria commented.

Make no mistake, this budget is a freeway builder’s dream and a public transport commuter’s nightmare. The Budget provides $1.5 billion for the East-West Link freeway, yet not one cent for the Napthine Government’s proposed new train lines. The Napthine Government’s Melbourne Rail Link looks like a mirage in the desert while their freeway plans are well underway with Federal funding.

Indexation of fuel excise was removed by the Howard government, but is now being reimposed. From a climate action perspective, reimposition of fuel excise indexation will act as a small price signal and may result in some reduction in carbon pollution. Already we are seeing a consumer preference for small fuel efficient cars in new car purchases, although Government and Corporate fleets lag in this trend.

Fossil fuel subsidies remain untouched. There has been no reform of the Fuel Tax Credit subsidy (cost to the taxpayer over four years: $28 billion) which the mining Industry in particular benefit from.

The Australian Conservation Foundation's Kelly O’'Shanassy was equally as scathing in her response regarding the lack of change in fuel subsidies:

The Abbott Government’s first budget rips money away from conservation and anti-pollution measures while handing billions to wealthy multinationals in discount fuel. The big end of town’s diesel fuel subsidies cost every taxpayer around $300 a year. “While other motorists continue to pay 32c a litre now and more each year on fuel, companies like Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton pay no tax on the diesel they use. And because the fuel excise will increase every year, big corporations will get an increased subsidy every year. “The fuel tax credits subsidy alone is worth more than the Federal Government provides to public schools.

No change to the Accelerated Depreciation (statutory effective life caps) rules that allow resource companies to claim their equipment lasts half the time it actually does (cost to the taxpayer over four years: $6.9 billion)

A new Exploration Development Incentive (cost to the taxpayer over four years: $100 million)

Science and research in the budget

A$20 billion for a medical research fund
A$140 million to continue mid-career fellowships
A$150 million for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure strategy for 2015–16

CSIRO funding cut by A$111.4 million
Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Association cut by A$27.5 million
Institute for Marine Sciences cut by A$7.8 million
Cooperative research centres programme cut by A$80 million
Clean Technology innovation programme axed saving A$44 million
Innovation and commercialisation programmes cut by A$850m
Australian climate change science programme merged into new national environmental science programme and cut by A$21.7 million
Carbon capture and storage flagship cut by A$162.9 million
Ending of the water science research programme in 2016 saving A$10 million

Source: Australian science base eroded by budget cuts Chemistry World, 22 May 2014.

Budget night - a tweeted story

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