As I write this, it looks like Malcolm Turnbull may replace Tony Abbott as Australian Prime Minister tonight. (Update: Turnbull is now PM!)
Abbott has spent his two years in government doing everything he can to dismantle every climate change policy, and most recently was caught on tape joking about rising sea levels with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. On the other hand, at least Abbott is an obvious enemy of the climate – with him in charge, it’s obvious nothing is being done.
Turnbull may be the most popular politician in Australia. Almost everybody I speak to seems to adore him. Whenever his name crops up in political news and commentary, he’s usually presented in a positive light. Most importantly, he is perceived as a rare green Liberal. He is now much more popular than when he previously led the Liberal Party in 2009, probably because the circumstances in which he lost the leadership made him look like a sort of green martyr. So when I tell people I am distrustful of him, they are astounded. Surely Turnbull would be far preferable to Abbott?
In the past Turnbull has painted himself as a champion of the climate, and for years many in the climate movement have dreamt of him becoming Prime Minister. Yet today, he said he will hold the party line on climate policy mechanisms and targets (and also on same-sex marriage, his other major point of difference with Abbott). He described Abbott’s climate policy as “very well designed, a very, very good piece of work”. In today’s press conference announcing his leadership challenge, he made not one mention of climate. Not one. Rather he talked of “economic leadership”, “economic confidence that business needs”, and free trade agreements – the buzzwords of those who oppose climate action.
Let’s look systematically at the various incarnations of Turnbull that have existed over the years and the various positions he has taken on climate. Which if any of them is “the real Malcolm”? Is he really any different from Abbott? And if Turnbull plans to change climate policy despite his denials, what kind of changes might he make?