It appears that the European Union and the Australian federal government are at opposite ends of the spectrum concerning climate change policy. As the globe’s biggest carbon polluter (by capita), Australia’s direction over climate change policy appears to be a political and philosophical challenge to the science of global warming, writes chief political correspondent Tim McNamara.
The Australian prime minister, Tony Abbot, is going to be one of the few global leaders not to attend the UN Secretary-General’s conference on climate change next week (23 September) in New York. Abbot’s contempt for climate change policies can easily be judged by the fact that he will be in city for the following two days attending a UN Security Council meeting.
EU commissioner for climate action Connie Hedegaard said it came as a surprise. “It is, of course, I think, a pity that not everyone is going,” she said. “At least 125 heads of state have sent a strong signal to the rest of the world that … climate change is important, and they know they have a role to play and a responsibility to take in order for the world to address climate change.
The political differences between the EU and Australia matter, what affects climate change in Australia affects the EU and vice-versa. Australia’s repudiation of the science of climate change is a direct challenge to one of the main political priorities of the EU.
Australia’s a country where a leading politician dismisses fibre insulation as little more than rats’ nest material. Where the current finance minister called land-based wind turbines ‘utterly offensive’. A country where double glazing is seen as exotic. A country that has radically weakened renewable energy targets in favour of coal-fired power stations. A country that has repealed the mining tax on excessive profits by mining companies and scrapped the carbon tax.
A country that has also disbanded it’s most senior climate change advisory body. (Australian Climate Commission). The Australian prime minister also appointed a climate science denier as his top business adviser and put yet another climate change sceptic (Dick Warburton) in charge of of a review into Australia’s key renewable energy policy. Late last month Warburton produced a report that unsurprisingly recommended the renewable energy target be dramatically cut back.
Only last month the Australian government repealed the mining tax. This was only possible with the votes of the Palmer United party (PUP) that has 3 seats in the Senate. PUP is led by Clive Palmer, a mining magnate. One of the arguments used against the mining tax on profits was that it collected very little money. Yet this was almost certainly due to the big mining corporations deffering profits so as to mitigate against the effects of the tax in the first year of operation, confident that the tax would be scrapped before it could prove its efficacy.
This is a country that has heavily reduced the benefits of solar power by slashing the feed-in tariffs that made solar energy an effective option. This despite the global price of solar panels plunging and this despite Australia having one of the sunniest climates of any advanced economy. This is also a country with potentially the biggest scope to harvest offshore wind energy, yet fails to do so. This despite being the third-least densely populated countries in the world. Only Mongolia and Namibia have sparser populations.
A country that is one of the world’s biggest exporter of coal and wants to increase such exports. A country that depends on coal for over 80% of its electricity generation. A significant proportion of which is lignite (brown coal), the more environmentally damaging type of coal.
In the EU, nobody seriously argues with the science of climate change. It seems to be a settled political position that significant emissions reduction in the medium and long term is an environmental necessity. In fact such is the political consensus in the EU over climate change policy it would be an act of verbosity to repeat the main arguments here. In Australia it seems to remain an article of faith that climate change is not man-made.
The Australian government appears to be in thrall to the USA climate change deniers led by the Koch brothers. This is a government led by Tony Abbot who in 2009 said “the climate change argument is absolute crap”. He has become much more circumspect since then, but his actions indicate that his earlier beliefs have hardly changed at all. Abbot’s political and scientific arguments are based on little more than a straightforward refusal to listen to reason. A position where if he doesn’t like the findings of official Australian bodies on climate change is to politically ‘destroy the evidence’.
It appears that the ‘neocon’ views of the Republican Right in the USA only have resonance and echoes in the right-wing coalition in Australia and to a slightly lesser extent in Canada. Even emerging economies such as China and India recognise the dangers posed by uncontrolled emissions from fossils fuels, yet Australia follows a path with absolute impunity that is utterly selfish, anti-scientific and extremely damaging to long-term global interests.
Tim McNamara is head of the Peercourt consultancy firm. He was previously political editor at the European Commission.