Refuting Coalition claims on their climate policies: a guide

January 19, 2020 at 3:59 pm 4 comments

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Many people are now writing to their local MPs demanding climate action. Coalition MPs are responding with claims of what they are doing. Here we make suggestions on how to challenge these responses – or much better, to use when talking with friends and family, who may be swayed by Coalition rhetoric.

This upsurge in climate concern is great. But please don’t just write letters to politicians. We suggest people join a local group. There are lots of groups working on various aspects of climate change. Contact us if you would like some suggestions.

The Coalition quotes below are from a letter sent to a constituent by a Coalition MP.

Emission Reduction Targets

Coalition claim: “We will beat our 2020 Kyoto target by 411 million tonnes, or close to 80% of a full year’s emissions”

Reply: There are three main reasons for this claim: some very creative accounting; a target with virtually no ambition; and reduced land clearing. Meanwhile emissions from other sources have risen substantially. What’s the plan to slash these other emissions?

Australia was initially allowed an 8% increase in emissions for its first Kyoto target – unlike most other developed countries. As to the creative accounting (which you can read about here) the researchers concluded:

“any claim of overachievement under the Kyoto Protocol does not represent any real emission reductions but is technical only, resulting from anomalies under Kyoto accounting rules and deliberate accounting choices Australia made.”

It will be virtually impossible for Australia to meet its earlier commitment to reduce Australia’s emissions by 5% between 2000 and 2020. The government’s own 2020 projection is for a decrease of 1.2%.

Australia’s heavy dependence on land use changes (mainly due to land clearing rates) are shown in the image below. Land use changes, represented in red, have been the main reason for the ups and downs in Australia’s annual emissions. Land use emissions were high in 1990 (a base year) and in 2005 (another base year). Australia’s targets are relative to these base years. Australia lobbied intensely at the 1997 Kyoto climate conference to count land use changes as emissions. We were the main developed country to benefit. More info here.

Meanwhile emissions from energy (shown in blue) have grown enormously.

Australia emissions by sector to 2018

National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. Land use emissions were negative (but small) from 2015.

Historical rates of land clearing have been influenced by state government policies. Queensland has been home to much of the recent land clearing. Its laws were strengthened in 2018. Another reason it is vital to reduce land clearing is the loss of biodiversity. Australia has seen many species become endangered or go extinct.

The 2019-2020 bushfires have also led to huge destruction of our forests. Nearly a year’s worth of Australia’s carbon emissions have been released and it may take a century for these emissions to be re-absorbed. These bushfire emissions do not count towards Australia’s official carbon emissions. Yet, climate change and the Coalition’s reluctance to prepare for climate change impacts have undoubtedly contributed to the severity of these fires. There have also been arguments that more land clearing can reduce the severity of bushfires. The federal government initiated an inquiry into this following the 2018 bushfires, but allowed it to lapse. There will undoubtedly be inquiries to follow.

Whatever happens to land clearing practices as a result of these bushfires, it is clear that the government’s reliance on land use changes for its emission reductions is fraught.

Coalition claim: “We are on track to meet our Paris target of reducing emissions by 26 – 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.”

Reply: This is by using accounting tricks from land use changes and carryover credits. Also the target is totally inadequate and will not prevent dangerous climate change.

In the mid 2000s, Australia’s emissions peaked due to a spike in land use emissions. See graph above. Since then, emissions from other sources have continued to climb.

Australia is trying to use carryover credits from the Kyoto periods to meet its Paris target. No other country is pushing for this. At the Madrid UN climate conference, about 100 other countries tried to prevent Australia from doing so. The issue remains unresolved. More information here.

Under the Paris Agreement, countries are meant to update their emissions reduction targets every five years. This has been called the ratchet mechanism. Its intention is to increase ambition over time. What is the Coalition’s plan for its 2035 target?

Coalition claim: “Emissions are coming down. The most recent update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory shows emissions are coming down. They are lower than when the Coalition came into government in 2013 and are lower than any year when Labor was last in government. In 2018‑19, emissions were down 15.2% since their peak in 2006-07 and 12.9% below 2005 (the baseline year for our 2030 Paris target). Emissions per person and per dollar of GDP were also at their lowest levels in 29 years.”

Reply: Since the Coalition came to power, the trend in emissions has shown a slight increase. Emissions peaked in 2006-07 due to high land use emissions.

Depending on what is chosen as the base year, it is possible to calculate all sorts of misleading figures. But let’s look at the trend in energy emissions (the biggest sector) since 2005. Electricity emissions have dropped by 1% per year. Non-electricity emissions are growing at 1.8% per year – faster than the population.

Australia’s emissions per capita are still among the world’s highest. They are nearly double Germany’s, and triple those of the UK. Australia’s emissions per unit GDP are also around double those of Germany and the UK.

Even their own MPs don’t believe their rhetoric. Here Turnbull quotes an unnamed Liberal MP.

Coalition claim:Australia’s share of global emissions was about 1.2 per cent in 2018

Reply: Australia’s per capita carbon emissions are among the world’s highest.

per capita emissions

Source: OECD data. 2017

Australia is also partly responsible for increases in other countries’ emissions because we import a lot of manufactured products. The emissions embodied in these products don’t count towards Australia’s total.

The Coalition’s claim that Australia is too small to bother disguises its behaviour on the world stage. Australia has long tried to undermine global climate action by arguing for special treatment. This bad behaviour is encouraging a few other countries to also undermine the rules. As an international climate negotiator noted: Australia’s dodgy accounting proposals are stoking India – and other big emitters – to pollute more.

As the world’s third largest exporter of fossil fuels, Australia helps promote fossil fuel usage elsewhere:

Not only does Australia encourage other countries to buy its toxic coal and gas, but it works tirelessly in international forums including the G20 and the UN climate system to ensure that its huge fossil fuel exports are not discussed, let alone criticised.”

Renewables Investment

Coalition claim:We have the world’s highest uptake of rooftop solar – one in five homes have solar on their roofs”

Reply: This is a credit to homeowners. However, rooftop solar generates only about 5% of Australia’s electricity.

NEM in 2019 a

Generation in the National Electricity Market by fuel source, 2019

Australian householders are leading the world in installing rooftop solar. This is probably due to frustration at the federal government’s lack of action on climate change, the rising cost of electricity, and the availability of feed-in-tariffs (which are a state matter). The states also have other subsidy schemes.

Federal governments have helped by providing subsidies through the Small Scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES). This scheme was introduced by the previous Labor Government under Rudd and Gillard. The Coalition can’t take credit for it.

Currently rooftop solar generates only about 5% of Australia’s electricity. Nearly four-fifths of electricity is generated by fossil fuels.

Coalition claim: “In 2018, we set a new record for renewable energy with 5.1 gigawatts (GW) accredited, more than double the previous record of 2.2GW in 2017. In 2018 our per capita investment in renewable energy was among the world’s best, and is more than double that of countries like the United Kingdom, Germany or France.” 

Reply: There was a lot of renewable energy investment in 2018 because the Renewable Energy Target was due to expire. Investment plummeted in 2019. The Renewable Energy Target scheme is now full. What’s the next plan to continue investment?

Companies were scrambling to get their renewable energy plant constructed as the Renewable Energy Target end date drew close. 2018 was a peak year. In 2019 it fell dramatically:

Investment in large-scale clean energy projects plunged 56 per cent in Australia last year, dropping to its lowest level since 2016 amid renewed uncertainty over the industry’s future.

Renewables were supported by the Renewable Energy Target, which was introduced by the Rudd government and watered down by the Coalition. Australia had met the target by September 2019. Several states now have renewable energy targets, so investment will continue. The Coalition can’t take any credit for this. 

Coalition Claim: We have invested nearly $7.2 billion in clean energy, mobilising over $20 billion in private investment and earning the Government a positive cash return. We recently committed a further $1 billion improve reliability of the electricity grid through projects like pumped hydro, batteries and transmission upgrades, all of which support more renewable energy” 

Reply: We can thank the Gillard government (Labor) for establishing the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which has provided this investment. Can the Coalition rule out using CEFC funds to support gas projects?

The Gillard government introduced a range of measures to support renewable energy, including the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), which was to invest $10 billion. The Coalition Government did try to abolish the CEFC in 2015. Fortunately, they couldn’t get it through the Senate. You can read more about the Coalition’s efforts to damage the CEFC here.

In October 2019 the Morrison government provided an extra $1 billion for grid reliability. This is called the Grid Reliability Fund. This funding will be good if enables more use of variable renewable energy. However, commentators have noted that it may help fund gas-fired power.

Funding Energy Storage

Coalition claim: “Snowy 2.0 and Battery of the Nation. We are investing nearly $1.5 billion to advance these massive renewable energy projects. At 2,000 MW and 2,500 MW respectively, these are the largest pumped hydro projects in the southern hemisphere and will generate enough power for one million homes.”

Reply: What is the plan to deliver the amount of storage we need to move rapidly to 100% renewables?

 Australia desperately needs much more utility-scale storage (such as pumped hydro) so we can grow the amount of variable renewable electricity (solar PV and wind power). These two pumped hydro projects will help. But Australia needs a plan for storage distributed throughout the network.

Climate Solutions Fund

Coalition claim: “Our new $2 billion Climate Solutions Fund supports a range of practical emissions reduction projects, such as capturing methane from landfill and storing carbon in forests and soils. This builds on our previous $2.55 billion Emissions Reductions Fund that has already secured more than 190 million tonnes of emissions reductions, of which over 80 per cent will be delivered by the agricultural and land sectors.”

Reply: Delivering emissions reductions or drawing down carbon in the agricultural and land sectors won’t be enough. What is the plan for reducing fossil fuel use?

Although the Climate Solutions Fund allows for emission reductions in energy efficiency and transport projects, these have hardly featured in the approved projects. The majority of the emission reduction has been for vegetation projects, such as tree planting. Apparently some of these vegetation projects have been destroyed by the 2019-20 bushfires. This highlights the danger of relying too much on emission reduction projects that are impacted by climate change.

New Technology

Coalition claim: “In November we released our National Hydrogen Strategy and increased our funding to support investment in this new technology to $500 million

Reply: Will the Coalition rule out producing hydrogen from fossil fuel?

Most hydrogen currently produced comes from coal and gas. The National Hydrogen Strategy refers to “clean hydrogen”, which includes making hydrogen from coal and gas, and using “substantial” carbon capture and storage (a highly contested technology). The strategy assumes that 90% of the CO2 will be captured, a rate that has not yet been achieved. If only 60% of the CO2 is captured, this will be as bad as burning natural gas.

Producing hydrogen from renewable energy can be useful as a storage device. The Coalition need to rule out hydrogen produced from fossil fuels.

Coalition claim: “In 2020 we will release our National Electric Vehicle Strategy to ensure a sustainable transition to new vehicle technology.”

Reply: Australia is so far behind other countries in moving towards cleaner vehicles.

The Coalition’s attitude to electric vehicles has been abysmal. During the 2019 election campaign, the Coalition ran a fear campaign on them.

Electric vehicles can run on renewable energy, but we need a lot of resources to build them and the roads. We desperately need much more and better public transport.

Relationship with Pacific Neighbours

Coalition claim: “We are on track to exceed our 2015 commitment to spend around $1 billion over five years by 2020 on helping developing countries address climate change, including $300 million over four years in the Pacific. We also recently announced an additional $500 million over five years from 2020 for climate and disaster resilience in the Pacific.”

 Reply: The Pacific Islands are very angry at Australia for its lack of action on climate change.

At the recent Pacific Island Forum, many countries indicated that they were fed up with Australia obstructing action on climate change. There was “An unprecedented show of dissent”. The Prime Minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, called Australia’s approach to climate discussions  “very insulting and condescending“. More info here.

IMG_1022-810x540

Tuvalu PM Enele Sopoaga and Scott Morrison. Photo: Stefan Armbruster

The Coalition has stopped funding the Green Climate Fund, which is intended to help poorer countries become more resilient to climate change impacts. This is despite an earlier pledge of $200 million.

The Coalition has obstructed international effects to get funds to help developing countries recover from climate disasters (known as Loss and Damage). At the recent Madrid climate conference, Australia and the US were accused of continuing to “block and undermine the needs of developing countries”.

Climate Science and Resilience

Coalition claim: Australia is a world leader in climate science and climate adaptation – from the Australian Institute of Marine Science to the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and our international renowned Marine Antarctic Division. Through the Reef 2050 long term sustainability plan, the Government has made an unprecedented $1.9 billion commitment to improving the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef to threats – including from climate change. The National Environmental Science Program is driving innovative research and partnerships, including with the Bureau of Meteorology to improve bushfire risk forecasting and planning.”

Reply: The Coalition has defunded or reduced funding for climate science and resilience.

The Coalition axed the main organisation doing research on climate adaptation (the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility ­– NCCARF). Under Abbott, the Coalition cut funds to CSIRO climate science, though Turnbull later reduced this. The Coalition axed the Climate Commission, a key climate science communication body.

CLimate ScienceAs to reef funding, this year, UNESCO will decide whether the Great Barrier Reef will be listed as an endangered world heritage area. The biggest threat to the Great Barrier Reef is rising sea temperatures from climate change.  The Coalition acknowledges this. Yet, it continues to obstruct global action on climate change at UN climate conferences.

The Economy

Coalition claim: We want to get our emissions down without putting a tax on Australians; without increasing their electricity prices; or removing the industries which they and their communities rely on for their livelihoods”.

Reply: It is a terrible economic strategy to cling to old fossil-fuel based technologies when the world is increasingly transitioning to clean technologies. What is the plan to help Australia transition in an orderly and fair way?

The fossil fuel industry has a small workforce compared with other industries, but the workers are mainly clustered in specific areas. The biggest threat to their jobs is automation, which has already led to a significant decline in employment. To avoid workers in particular communities bearing the brunt of the transition, governments need to plan for the transition.

The Coalition has NO plan for a transition – let alone a just transition. In Victoria, the Latrobe Valley has received $266 million funding for its transition away from coal. Coal communities are coming up with their own transition plan – see for example ones from the Hunter and Collie. By ignoring the inevitable and refusing to plan for it, the Coalition is jeopardising the future of these communities.

 

 

 

Entry filed under: climate change info, Coalition Climate Policies, greenwashing, Policy. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • […] via Refuting Coalition claims on their climate policies – a guide — Climate Action Moreland: people … […]

    Reply
  • 2. Craig d'Aberfeldie  |  January 21, 2020 at 11:05 am

    Until the things we buy are made with renewable resources, or those things pay back their own non-renewable inputs (like solar panels do), we need to buy less stuff. Good policy needs to manage demand.

    Reply
  • […] Liberal Party misinformation on climate change.  Refuting Coalition claims on their climate policies – a […]

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  • 4. Graeme Bedford.  |  January 25, 2020 at 7:07 pm

    How can our emmissions be reduced when our migration rate is increasing? Every new arrival creates increased demands on products,from household appliances, furniture ,homes etc. States have to create new infrastructure to cope .
    Kyoto Protocol doesn’t allow the true accounting of emmissions without an audit. The truth be known most if not all our farms would be carbon neutral if carbon uptake on their farm was counted to counter their emmissions. All plants including weeds require Co2 not only trees,and in return give us the oxygen we require. If we were able to count the Co2 taken up by the grasses,scrub,crops,pasture, orchards, forests in Australia we would be carbon neutral . It’s all accounting,and unless you pay for an audit we can’t count reality.

    Reply

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