Posts Tagged ‘Renewable Energy Target’


Liberals Part 1: Climate denial and deregulation

11 January 2013

Almost all of my posts to date have focused on criticizing Australia’s incumbent Labor government. I have written very little about the alternate Liberal/National Coalition government. But as we enter an election year, it is time to examine the Liberals’ policies.

Can the Liberals be trusted?

To begin with, it is worth noting that the Liberals have given us every reason to distrust them on climate change.

According to a 2010 survey, only 38% of Coalition politicians accept that humans are warming the planet (compared to 98% of Greens, in line with the scientific consensus, and 89% of Labor politicians). Liberal and National politicians regularly spout denialist talking points, up to and including their leader Tony Abbott. Most notoriously, Abbott reportedly said in 2009 that the science of climate change is “complete crap” but “the politics of this are tough for us”. In 2010 Abbott met with Christopher Monckton, a man who claims climate scientists are conspiring to fake their results in a plot to create a socialist world government. In a speech to the Mining Council of Australia in 2011, Abbott said “the authors of the carbon tax do not see coal, oil and gas as the most important parts of our economy” but “as a threat to the very survival of our planet”, the obvious implication being that his party disagrees. In 2011 former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard launched a book instructing schoolchildren to raise denialist arguments in the classroom. Queensland’s Liberal National government wants to remove climate from the school curriculum, and its Premier and Environment Minister openly deny human-caused global warming.

I could list many more examples. Indeed, it would probably be quicker to list Coalition politicians who have never publically made denialist claims.

Almost all of the Liberals’ actions mark them as an anti-climate party. The Liberals did not take any significant climate action during the eleven years of the Howard government. They consistently prioritize short-term economic considerations like mining industry competitiveness and electricity prices ahead of climate change. Today they are putting way more effort into opposing Labor’s climate policy than in designing and promoting their own (the former is the subject of this post; the latter will be covered in Part 2). Thus it is questionable whether they would even implement their climate policy, let alone whether it would work. Read the rest of this entry ?


Response to RET Review

19 December 2012

Today the Climate Change Authority (CCA) released the final report of its Renewable Energy Target review. It repeats all the same arguments I debunked in my response to the discussion paper released in October, and makes similar recommendations (though some of the details have been refined).

The RET Review fails to acknowledge that Australia and the world urgently need to phase out fossil fuel burning to avoid dangerous climate change, and the policies in place are completely inadequate to do so. Instead, on most matters it insists the status quo must be maintained to minimize policy uncertainty. But climate policy will be subject to uncertainty for the foreseeable future anyway, because it challenges powerful interests, so the best way to design the RET is to send the strongest signal possible to incentivize investment in renewable energy. The reason for the existence of a Climate Change Authority and regularly scheduled reviews is to provide regular opportunities to strengthen Australia’s climate policies and thus accelerate decarbonization over time. CCA’s rigid determination to recommend little change is creating the ludicrous situation where the body is making itself irrelevant.

CCA refuses to recommend increasing or strengthening the Large-Scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET). It recommends future reviews be scheduled at four-year instead of two-year intervals (though fortunately unscheduled reviews can be commissioned at any time by the Minister, the Parliament, or CCA itself). It envisages the 2016 review will consider the issue of post-2020 targets, and rules out consideration of accelerating renewable energy deployment before 2020 except “in the event of extenuating circumstances” (p. xi); it is unclear what would qualify as such a circumstance. The problem with this is that the RET is currently inadequate, a higher target is needed to incentivize new projects, and accelerating action cannot wait until 2016 or 2020. Read the rest of this entry ?


Climate deregulation still on agenda

6 December 2012

It’s called the COAG Taskforce on Regulatory and Competition Reform, and don’t be fooled by the boring name: it could be the gravestone of Australian climate policies and environmental regulation. Today Prime Minister Julia Gillard meets with the unelected Business Advisory Forum (BAF), and tomorrow with the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), to advance this radical corporate-driven deregulation agenda.

I was going to write that the federal government intended to hand over its environmental approval powers to the states tomorrow. Fortunately that has been delayed following a campaign by the Greens and environmental groups, though it remains very much on the agenda. Instead this blog post will focus on another, even more important aspect of the COAG Taskforce program, which has received less attention but presumably rolls on inexorably toward an imminent conclusion: reviewing almost all climate policies with a view to axing them.

The process is completely opaque and undemocratic. Federal and state governments are advised by business lobbyists, with no comparable consultation of anyone else, and the public are not told what is happening apart from vague communiqués following decisions at BAF and COAG meetings.

It is not even clear why the BAF was created in the first place, though I can offer an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory. Throughout 2011, business lobbyists campaigned against the Gillard government for daring to rock the boat even slightly by introducing a carbon price (never mind that it was full of holes). Some supported the Liberals’ campaign for an election and no carbon price, and I imagine behind the scenes some supported Kevin Rudd’s leadership plot in return for Rudd’s promise to weaken the carbon price. When Rudd was decisively defeated, the Business Council of Australia called for “a renewed commitment to make Australia more competitive and productive” including “a regulatory environment that encourages business to invest, adapt, and innovate”. Within a week, Gillard announced the formation of the Business Advisory Forum. The whole thing had a vibe of Gillard desperately trying to win the support of business. And what better way to atone for the carbon price than to dismantle all other climate and environment policies? Read the rest of this entry ?


Response to RET Review discussion paper

15 November 2012

I have submitted feedback (which you can read here) to the Climate Change Authority (CCA) on its Renewable Energy Target review discussion paper, released last month containing draft recommendations. A report with final recommendations will be released by 31 December.

In September, I wrote:

The RET review will be a key test of the Greens’ climate strategy. The Greens argued the independent reviews would provide regular opportunities to improve climate policies in future. The RET review is the first test of whether it will play out that way, or if the reviews will instead be regular opportunities for polluting industries to sabotage climate policies. The role of the Climate Change Authority is crucial, as in 2014 it will be tasked with recommending five years of emissions targets. The Authority is as yet an unknown quantity (though I am concerned that two board members have conflicts of interests). Will the Authority prove to be a strong advocate for climate action, or will it fall prey to the siren songs of vested interests?

So far, it appears the answer is neither, with a bit of the latter. On the one hand, the discussion paper rejects the proposals by 25% of submissions (almost all from businesses and business lobby groups) to abolish the RET or decrease the 2020 Large-scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET). It acknowledges the RET plays an important role and the possibility of overachieving is not a bad thing (CCA estimates renewables will meet 25% of demand in 2020 instead of 20%). On the other hand, it completely ignored the 41% of submissions calling for the RET to be increased and/or strengthened (99% if you count the 8,500 submissions in the GetUp! campaign to increase the 2020 target and the Hepburn Wind campaign for a post-2020 target). It recommends neither increasing the 2020 target, nor introducing post-2020 targets, nor making Clean Energy Finance Corporation investments additional, nor strengthening the policy in any other way. Read the rest of this entry ?


The fossil-fuelled war on renewables

24 October 2012

In recent months, ~2 GW of Australian coal-fired electricity generation has been closed temporarily or permanently (~2.5 GW in winter), comparable to the 2 GW that would have been closed by the abandoned policy of contracts-for closure. Some might conclude Australia is finally beginning its transition to a low- or zero-carbon economy, and we can sit back and watch the federal carbon price and Renewable Energy Target (RET) drive it. But even if decarbonization was occurring fast enough (which is nowhere near the case), now is not the time to sit back, because the established electricity companies see their traditional business model disappearing down the drain, and they are fighting back. Read the rest of this entry ?


A terrible week for the climate

14 October 2012

This week’s events illustrate (not that further illustration was needed) that both of Australia’s major political parties are in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry, though Labor hides it behind a veneer of greenwash while the Liberals are overt about it.

On Monday in New South Wales, the Planning Assessment Commission approved the Ashton South East Open Cut coal mine in the Hunter Valley. The Commission had rejected the same mine last year, but the company, Ashton Coal, appealed the decision and it has now been approved with changes. The mine is still opposed by residents.

Meanwhile, the NSW government made very clear where its loyalties lie on coal seam gas (CSG). On Tuesday, NSW Resources Minister Chris Hartcher told an Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association conference that the “industry needs to get out there and sell the message”. On Wednesday, NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard reportedly told the mayor of the anti-CSG Lismore Council that CSG development would go ahead regardless of community opposition.

Also on Wednesday, federal Environment Minister Tony Burke approved the T3 coal terminal at Abbot Point, Queensland, which is joint-owned by GVK and Hancock. The decision is in spite of UNESCO having called for no new port developments to be approved before the completion of a plan to protect the Great Barrier Reef, and follows Burke’s approval of the associated Alpha mine and rail line. T3 will have the capacity to export 60 million tonnes of coal per year. Assuming each tonne of coal burned emits 2.7 tonnes of CO2, when the exported coal is burned overseas it will result in CO2 emissions of 160 million tonnes per year, equal to the emissions which Australia’s domestic carbon price is intended to save. I urge readers to sign this petition to Tony Burke to reverse his approval of T3. Read the rest of this entry ?


Why the RET review matters

18 September 2012

Last week, I made a submission to the Climate Change Authority review of Australia’s federal Renewable Energy Target (RET). In August, the Climate Change Authority released an Issues Paper on the review, inviting public submissions (which closed on 14 September, but you can still have your say in a poll by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition). A discussion paper with draft recommendations will be released in October, followed by final recommendations by 31 December. The Government must respond within six months.

The RET review is the first in a series of independent reviews of climate policies, intended to allow them to be strengthened, secured by the Greens in last year’s Multi-Party Climate Change Committee negotiations in return for agreeing to initially inadequate and potentially ineffective policies. However, a number of businesses and business lobby groups invested in fossil fuels are using the review as an excuse to demand the RET be weakened.

An internal document obtained by the Australian Financial Review in April showed the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network is lobbying for the RET to be to scrapped or weakened. Meanwhile, TRUenergy has joined Origin Energy in its more public campaign to weaken the RET. These two “gentailers” (companies who both generate and retail electricity) argue the RET should be adjusted downward so that it accounts for no more than 20% of 2020 demand. Such a move would cause renewable energy deployment in Australia to stop completely in 2016, with only gas-fired electricity generation built post-2016:

Projected new and retired electricity generation capacity under the reduced Renewable Energy Target advocated by TRUenergy. Green and purple bars are renewable energy sources; dark blue and red are gas-fired; light blue are retirements. (Image source: Renew Economy.) Read the rest of this entry ?


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