Tony Abbott's climate plan under attack

G Magazine


Tony Abbott

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With the Coalition yesterday announcing their climate change policy under the leadership of Tony Abbott, green groups and experts have come forward to express their disappointment and concern.

Abbott’s plan to address climate change should the Coalition come to power includes offering billion of dollars in reduction incentives to big polluters, promoting the storage of CO2 in the soil and planting trees - with the overarching goal the same as the Government’s, to reduce emissions five per cent by 2020.

“The good news is that the Coalition has recognised that climate change is a problem. Until now they have been sending confusing messages,” said Peter Cosier, Director of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists. The bad news, he said, was that “if Australia is to make its contribution to managing carbon pollution we need to reduce our net emissions by at least 25 per cent by 2020…[and] this policy doesn’t get us anywhere near those targets.”

The Australian Conservation Foundation came forward to say that while there were some useful initiatives in the package - including investment in solar power and energy efficiency - it still “fails tests of scale, certainty and fairness.”

Tony Mohr, ACF’s Climate Change Program Manager, said in a statement that the “package isn’t strong enough, it’s not certain enough, and it doesn’t make the big polluting companies do their fair share in reducing Australia’s greenhouse pollution”, instead allowing them to carry on business as usual.

“Without an overall cap on greenhouse pollution there is no certainty that the five per cent cut would be achieved, let alone the 25 per cent cut both parties have committed to as part of global efforts,” he said.

ACF also pointed out that 60 per cent of emissions reductions under the Coalition plan would be pinned on storing carbon in soil, which is not yet a recognised abatement method in international carbon accounting rules.

Such a strong reliance on soil carbon for success of the climate plan is “wishful thinking”, said John Quiggin, an Australian Research Council Federation Fellow at the University of Queensland, who added that “in the absence of adequate accounting systems, this proposal is vulnerable to massive rorting…[and] as a whole, the [Coalition's] package and its costings lack credibility.”

Also expressing concern over Abott’s proposal yesterday was WWF-Australia, with CEO Greg Bourne labelling it as an “extremely risky” plan for both the planet and economy, that had “no hope of transforming Australia into a competitive, low carbon economy.”

“The Coalition may talk about a ‘Great Big New Tax on Everything’,” he said, referring to their opposition to the Government’s proposed emissions trading scheme, “but their alternative is a ‘Great Big New Way to Avoid Action’,” he said.

Indeed, added environment and planning expert Alan Pears, from RMIT University, the proposal “rejects a key element of any long-term transition to a low carbon economy - placing a price on carbon emissions.”

“The Coalition is effectively supporting an ongoing subsidy to emitters, rather than avoiding a ‘great big tax’,” he said, and furthermore “many of the proposals are similar to measures either already existing or under development by the Government [while] others could easily be incorporated into the Government’s approach, which includes a range of compensatory and complementary measures funded from the CPRS, as well as regulations.”

At the end of the day, both the Coalition and the Government need “to put aside party politics and point scoring, and the vested interests of polluters and climate deniers, and act for the future of our environment and our economy,” said Bourne.

So far, “neither the Coalition’s policy package, nor the Government’s weak five per cent unconditional target, will deliver an environmentally effective outcome on climate change,” added ACF’s Mohr.

“It’s time our leaders delivered serious action on climate change and put a limit on the amount of greenhouse pollution we create by enacting strong laws with financial incentives.”