Abbott’s self-made storm

IT’S been an embarrassing few weeks for the Abbott government’s climate policy.

Government officials were grilled for more than an hour about the lack of detail in Australia’s climate policy at the Bonn Climate Change Conference, which ends on Thursday.

Climate ChangeIn the lead-up to the conference, more countries questioned Australia’s climate policy than any other.

We copped queries from the US, China, Brazil, South Africa, Korea, Japan, Switzerland and the UK.

An international panel led by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan labelled the Abbott government as a climate change ‘‘free-rider’’ and that Australia appeared ‘‘to have withdrawn from the community of nations seeking to tackle dangerous climate change’’.

You know our international reputation is being trashed when the usual diplomatic language is replaced by such bluntness.

And you can understand why, because the Abbott government’s climate policy is dysfunctional.

Instead of making the polluting companies pay, Abbott is handing them taxpayer funds.

Instead of providing market incentives for renewable energy, Abbott, with the backing of Labor, is winding back the renewable energy target (RET).

Instead of leading the way on dealing with pollution, Abbott is making Australia the only country in the world to scrap a price on carbon pollution. Abbott is setting the country on a path at odds with the rest of the world.

Last week, Europe’s top oil and gas companies urged governments around the world to introduce a price on carbon pollution.

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, itself created from oil wealth, has announced that it is divesting from fossil fuels.

Representatives from China, Brazil and the US have questioned whether Abbott’s Emissions Reduction Fund will reduce pollution enough to meet the 2020 commitments Australia has already made.

And, while countries around the world are increasing their commitment to renewables, Abbott has dragged the industry through 18 months of review, leading to major players announcing their intention to withdraw from Australia. Institutional investors require actionable information and not uncertainty around government policy measures.

Leading up to the last federal election, there was support from all the major political parties for the renewable energy target.

Before his election, Abbott said that under his government there would be no change to the RET.

The last 18 months has shown this to be a lie, or perhaps it was a non-core promise?

Abbott appointed climate change denier Dick Warburton to head a review into the RET, which dragged on for almost a year. When finally released, the review report was full of double-speak that would have made George Orwell turn in his grave.

Warburton recommended the RET be scrapped because of its effect on electricity prices, ignoring the review’s own economic modelling.

Nine months of political posturing, with investors leaving and jobs being slashed across the country, including here in the Hunter, the Abbott negotiators did a deal with Labor to cut the RET from 41,000 gigawatt hours to 33,000.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has estimated that the renewable energy sector has lost almost 2500 jobs in this period of uncertainty.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, $6billion in investment will be lost because of the Liberal-Labor deal to cut the renewable energy target.

The  RET cut is irresponsible from an environmental, economic and social perspective and the only winners are the big polluting companies.

The vast majority of Australians want climate action, want clean energy and don’t want our reputation trashed overseas.

Yet, overseas the Abbott government is talking up their commitment to the renewable energy target, as if their ideological dogma at home is not reported elsewhere.

This conniving, two-faced approach was exposed by our major trading partners last week, who asked the majority of questions about Australia’s climate policy at the international conference.

Let’s hope things change before the Paris climate conference this December, when world governments are expected to create a legally binding agreement on limiting carbon pollution beyond 2020. It will be the first universal agreement on carbon pollution that requires commitments and targets from all countries.

Australia’s commitment to doing our fair share will again be questioned and scrutinised.

Abbott needs a policy that addresses the reality of climate change, deals with our carbon pollution and repairs our international reputation.

Let’s hope his response is not another three-word slogan like ‘‘nope, nope, nope’’.

Cr Michael Osborne is a Greens Councillor on Newcastle City Council and lectures in climate change policy at the University of Newcastle.

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