Liberals’ climate policy just got stupider

This week as Australia concluded its hottest summer on record, the climate change policies of the Liberal/National Coalition got even sillier and more contradictory.

According to Climate Spectator, Liberal climate spokesperson Greg Hunt reconfirmed on Wednesday that the Liberals’ proposed Direct Action Emission Reduction Fund (DAERF) is (as I’ve explained in detail before) like a baseline-and-credit scheme (a kind of reverse carbon price) except with non-tradable credits. Instead of a mandatory carbon price which polluting businesses must pay the government, the DAERF would reward polluters who voluntarily cut their emissions relative to projected business-as-usual growth. In other words, it is a government-funded offset scheme; Hunt compared it to the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism international carbon offset program, which is notoriously flooded with fraudulent credits.

The DAERF would have a very small amount of money to spend, only around $1 billion per year, and would not be allowed to go over budget. It would support the projects deemed cheapest by guaranteeing a payment rate per tonne of CO2 abated, which fortunately means payments would be made only after delivery but unfortunately means there would be no upfront incentive to cut emissions. There would be no requirement for companies to participate and no penalty for continuing along a business-as-usual emissions growth trajectory that, if followed worldwide, will cause an unimaginably catastrophic ~6°C of global warming by 2100. Even if the policy is implemented and is effective, it has the same meaningless 5%-by-2020 reduction target as the Labor government.

There would be huge problems with ensuring the emissions cuts claimed by companies would not have happened anyway. It’s even more concerning that Liberal treasury spokesperson Joe Hockey said on Monday: “If there are individual businesses that will be affected [by the repeal of the carbon price] we will deal with them on a case by case basis… and we have allocated funds under our Direct Action Plan to deal with initiatives that have been under way.” In other words, selected actions taken by companies in the past could be counted toward the 2020 target! I should not have to point out climate change requires action on a scale far beyond what businesses are already doing. The DAERF is supposed to fund emissions cuts that are not already underway; otherwise what would be the point? When asked about Hockey’s statement, Hunt denied it.

On Tuesday, it emerged that Liberal candidate Angus Taylor and his consulting firm Port Jackson Partners are lobbying the Liberals to weaken the Renewable Energy Target (RET). Taylor says: “We can be committed to keeping the RET and also committed to restructuring the RET.” He uses outdated price estimates to argue wind is vastly more expensive than gas, and complains the RET is preventing a transition from coal to gas (a notion I have debunked previously). He suggests allowing liable companies to meet their obligations with gas-fired electricity generation and/or international renewable energy credits.

Taylor even names a particular project in Papua New Guinea proposed by Origin Energy as deserving of inclusion in the RET. A few weeks earlier, a leaked Coalition policy discussion paper proposing a Rinehartian mining-friendly zone in northern Australia also proposed the same Origin project be supported by the DAERF (Hunt denied that too). The Liberals’ enthusiasm about this project makes their description of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) as a “slush fund” for “white shoe salesmen” look like the pot calling the kettle black.

Hunt responded to Taylor that the Coalition remains “committed to the next review of the RET in 2014 and to the 20% target”. Yet the RET is to be reviewed by the Climate Change Authority, a body the Liberals have pledged to abolish! Hunt also said “we will want to see where energy consumption is heading in 2014”, a hint that the Liberals are sympathetic to the fossil fuel lobby’s argument that because of falling electricity demand the RET will result in “too much” renewable energy and should be adjusted downward (which would effectively halt renewable energy deployment by 2016). Then on Thursday, Nationals Senator Ron Boswell said the RET should be abolished entirely: “The whole of the National Party agrees with me, although we haven’t got a formal policy on it yet, and I suspect many Liberals do also.”

These are the latest events in a trend of increasing antipathy to renewable energy from the Liberals and Nationals. State governments have been slashing climate policies, not to mention campaigning against the federal RET. Many conservative politicians are campaigning against wind farms. The federal Liberals recently wrote to CEFC telling it not to make any investments before the election, falsely claiming Australia is in “caretaker mode”, and say they would not honor contracts signed by CEFC.

This week’s events also continue a pattern of the Liberals frequently contradicting themselves. They have become so incoherent that they should no longer be considered a serious political party. Whereas the Greens and Labor each have a clear vision for the future (the Greens to build a sustainable zero-carbon economy, Labor to protect the fossil fuel industry), the Liberals are just vague and incoherent. They insult our intelligence and therefore deserve our contempt, not our votes.

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