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Sunday, July 16, 2023

Australia joins the Climate Club but PM evades question of Fossil fuel expansion and export

Guardian Cartoon by Fiona Katsaukas

On Tuesday 11 July Prime Minister Anthony Albanese committed Australia to joining the 'Climate Club' while visiting Germany. 

While this sounds like a positive action there are no detailed commitments or changes required in Australia's climate policy direction, according to Prime Minister Albanese. 

Many people think this is more rhetoric rather than climate action.

The club is an initiative in 2022 of German Chancellor Olav Scholz, from the Social Democratic Party, whose ruling coalition is made up of parties from the centre-right to the Greens.

The ABC analysis article talks about the central tenets of the club: 

  • Designed to help lower emissions by pressing governments to put a minimum price on carbon.
  • That countries with a carbon price should tax imports from countries without one, via a Carbon Border Adjustment mechanism (CBAM).
  • The idea is that these twin policies will foster a world in which economic growth can continue, but be decoupled from carbon emissions almost completely by 2050. 

It is clear Economic growth is not being challenged, or degrowth pathways to a circular economy not being centrally considered, such as Doughnut economics as proposed by economist Kate Raworth.

Another problem is that Australia does not have an economy wide carbon price. The reformed safeguard mechanism only applies to the largest polluters, and allows targets to be met via carbon offsets with questionable integrity.

Europe's Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism is due to be implemented in October 2023. This is to ensure those industries/sectors implementing emissions reduction are not undercut by imports from countries that have not imposed a carbon price or industrial emission reductions. It will be interesting to watch how Australia's hgh carbon intensity products will fare under the new European CBAM.

The Climate Club includes all of the members of the G7 group of rich nations, such as the US, UK, France, Italy, Canada and Japan, and other nations including Argentina, Chile, the EU, Indonesia, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Here is what Prime Minister Albanese said about joining the Climate Club in a joint Press Conference in Berlin on 11 July:

No challenge is of course more pressing than that posed by climate change. Australia and Germany are now united in our deep commitment to tackling climate change. And I commended Chancellor Scholz on his development of Germany’s Climate Club, and was pleased to confirm that Australia will join that high-ambition initiative. Together with the G7, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Indonesia, the Netherlands and Luxemburg we are united in our commitment to be ambitious about taking up the opportunities that come from acting on climate. My Government has set the ambition for Australia to be a Renewable Energy Superpower. But we also want to be a renewable energy export superpower, working with countries like Germany, on the industries of the future. For example, we know that exports of green hydrogen derivatives from Australia to Germany can work, and that businesses at both ends are working on this. Growing jobs and industry is a key aim for my Government, and for Chancellor Scholz’s government as well. We’re also working together to lay the foundations for critical minerals supply chains between our two countries.

Dodging the question on increase to fossil fuel exports

Most of the journalist questions focussed on Ukraine or the NATO meeting, but one One journalist put a question to Prime Minsister Albanese on the hypocrisy of joining the Climate Club when still ramping up fossil fuel exports. The jopurnalist was mistaken about Australia building new coal-fired plants, but the second part is certainly valid:

Journalist: The Federal Chancellor just expressed that you will be joining the Climate Club. Your own country is currently building new coal-fired power plants and is also ramping up exports of fossil fuels. So what would be the impact if you were to join the climate club, would you change your policies in the coming years? 
PRIME MINISTER ALBANESE: Australia is very pleased and proud to join the Climate Club. There has not been a new coal-fired power station built in Australia, nor is there one proposed or under construction, and that has been the case for well over a decade. There has been some rhetoric from some in the our Greens political party about that, but nothing has happened. In spite of the fact that the previous government had twenty two different energy policies and didn't land any, nothing actually happened with regard to new coal-fired power. And the simple reason is this, that the cheapest form of new energy is renewables - in Australia, like most parts of the world. Our plan, that we have legislated, is for a 43% reduction by 2030 and net zero by 2050. That 2030 plan includes our energy grid being made up of 82% renewables. And what we've seen since our time in government, in just one year, is a massive increase in investment. Because our policy was supported by not just mainstream environmental groups, but by the Business Council of Australia, by the Australian Industry Group, which is represents large manufacturers, as well as our Australian Council of Trade Unions, as well as the Australian Conservation Foundation, and Greenpeace, and other mainstream environmental groups. So, we're very pleased to join the Climate Club, because we are ambitious and we also see that this isn't just the right thing to do by the environment but this is also the right thing to do by jobs and by our economy. And one thing we can do is to cooperate and learn off each other. Because you can't address climate change as just a national issue. It has to be, by definition, a global response. And I praise Chancellor Scholz's leadership and Germany's leadership in establishing the Climate Club, and showing that leadership for a considerable period of time. Thanks very much.

You see what Prime Minister Albanese did? 

He corrected the journalist on coal fired power in Australia, explained the current step-up but still inadequate targets and policies introduced in the last year by the Labor Govenment. 

He provided 100 per cent silence and  totally ignored the whole question of the approval of new coal mines for the export market, and approval of new gas fields and $1.9 billion investment in Darwin Middlearm industrial precinct which will enable LNG processing and export a major subsidy for opening up new fracking gas fields in the Northern Territory.

He labelled his government's climate policies as ambitious when they fail to match the targets that the science calls for. Targets that are not even on par with Europe's targets.

Climate Council: Time to match commitments with action

There was a positive, but lukewarm response by the Climate Council Director of Research, Dr Simon Bradshaw, who commented: 

“Joining the Climate Club is a good move, but must be backed by stronger steps at home to phase out fossil fuels and build the clean industries of the future.

“International collaboration is key to achieving the emissions reductions we need to combat the climate crisis. But we need to see any new international partnerships backed with real action.”

“The fact is Australia’s emissions reduction target remains weaker than Europe’s, the US, and other members of the Climate Club. We will now rightly see even more international pressure on Australia to up our game.

“The Climate Club aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. However, this is far too slow – we really should be aiming to achieve net zero by 2035.”

You can watch Simon Bradshaw from the Climate Council being interviewed by the ABC's Joe O'Brien on Australia joining the Climate Club

Climate Councillor and economist Nicki Hutley said Australia’s joining the Climate Club is symbolic of our reputational shift from a climate outlier and laggard to one that is now being welcomed back into the fold.: 

“It’s very much in Australia’s economic interests to join this club, to support and enhance the decarbonisation of our industries, to encourage other countries to do the same, and to keep 1.5 alive.”

“Previously, at COP meetings, Australia was almost considered an outcast. Now, we’re welcomed by other nations. Despite making progress, we can and should accelerate our emissions reduction efforts, given our vast natural and financial resources.

“We mustn’t rest on our laurels, but we are certainly being welcomed into the international fold more than we have been for a long time.”

Nicki Hutley, in an opinion piece in the Guardian, sums up why many people may feel Australia joining the Climate Club is more rhetoric than climate action,

"this acceptance is quite rightly shrouded in scepticism. Our shameful legacy as a fossil fuel giant and the government’s stubborn insistence on green-lighting major climate wrecking fossil fuel projects – three so far this term – is jarringly at odds with its commitment to combat the climate crisis."


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