There is a clear need for more critical discussion in the Cabinet room on Australia’s environment policy in the lead up to the Paris round of negotiations on the climate targets, writes Matthew Rose
While the Prime Minister maintains he accepts the science of global warming, his Government’s track record on policy and his ongoing disapproving comments on renewable energy investment in infrastructure such as wind farms make it difficult to take this assurance at face value.
While Tony Abbott seems unwilling to accept the environmental rationale for action on global warming, sooner rather than later it is clear that he will have to accept economic and geo political rationales.
In the last two months the ground has shifted dramatically both here and overseas. The Pope has thrust the Catholic Church into the centre of the discussion and has come out advocating for the world to take serious binding action. Even Saudi Arabia has acknowledged the inevitable phase out of fossil fuels, the G7 which includes Canada a major exporter of fossil fuel has acknowledged the need to transition to a cleaner economy.
These announcements seemed aimed at building momentum for an agreement on effective binding targets at the Paris meeting in early December.
Here in Australia, AGL Energy, one of the main players in Australian electricity production, has said it will close all existing coal –fired power plants by 2050. Energy Australia’s parent company in Hong Kong has recently stated it is no longer interested in floating the company on the stock exchange something they have been considering for the past few years.
And in the last month, Alcoa has announced the closure of its Anglesea power station from August 31 and Alinta announced it will close its Port August coal power station by 2018.
This year despite dramatically lower feed in tariffs 62,000 new households have already joined the 1.4 million Australia households and businesses who have solar panels on their roofs. The world including Australia is on the cusp of battery storage disrupting traditional electricity market models and thousands of Australian’s work in the clean energy sector.
It seems that the Prime Minister is content to ignore this confluence of events and instead is more interested in joining Treasurer Joe Hockey talking down a successful Australian industry based on aesthetics and dodgy science rather than anything more complex. He is increasingly isolated in his opinions both in Australia and globally.
Following his recent comments that wind farms are ‘ugly’, noisy and ‘visually awful’ (as opposed to coal-fired power stations being ‘good for humanity’) – it is clear the Prime Minister is set in his ways. As head of the Government this means it is likely Australia will become increasingly isolated in the global warming debate.
The longer Australia refuses to accept the need to play a constructive role in the international sphere, the longer Australia will continue to ignore the imperative to put in place appropriate domestic measures. This means Australia will continue to lack national leadership on climate mitigation and the inevitable need to transition our industries and jobs while ensuring ongoing community wellbeing.
Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are content to leave Australia internationally isolated on global warming policy. This will have dramatic environmental and economic consequences as appropriate planning and investment will not be undertaken.
It is now time for Abbott’s more environmentally inclined cabinet colleagues to use the Cabinet process and urge the two most powerful Ministers to consider the ramifications if Australia fails to commit to strong emissions reductions targets ahead of Paris.
Economic and geo political forces are moving quickly, the longer Australia refuses to budge the more isolated it becomes and the more chances it misses to ensure Australia is at the forefront of the world’s transition.