Australia got a (and another) new Prime Minister this week. When Malcolm Turnbull last led his party, he was a champion for action on climate change. To those wanting climate change action and a clean energy future, his return to the leadership of his party, now as Prime Minister, raised hopes that the hostility to the need and sector may decline over time. These hopes were dashed within 48 hours as both Labor and the Greens flushed out the new leader of the parliamentary Liberal Party. He sent signals that he won’t budge on the hardline policies adopted by the man he deposed. According to some commentators, he has “sold his soul”.
In commentary on his election as leader, the local and international media focused on previous comments supporting action on climate, including an emissions reduction scheme. There are two key quotes from his previous life as Leader of the Opposition:
• “We cannot cost-effectively achieve a substantial cut in emissions without putting a price on carbon. We have to put a price on carbon.” (Wheeler Centre, 2010)
• “I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am.” (ABC, 2009)
Then, over 48 hours , in his first news conference as PM designate and then as PM in two Question Times he said it is more of the same:
• Media conference excerpt (Monday night): “Well, let me make this clear. The policy on climate change that Greg Hunt and Julie in fact prepared, is one that I supported as a Minister in the Abbott Government and it’s one that I support today. So again, just going back to what Lenore said, policies are reviewed and adapted all the time but the climate policy is one that has been very well designed. It was a very, very good piece of work.” Deputy Leader and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop then added: “And can I just say we have already announced climate targets for Paris in December and I expect those targets to continue.”
• Question Time excerpts (Tuesday) : “The targets we have set are reasonable ones. They are comparable ones. They are substantial ones. The methods that the environment minister has put in place to achieve those cuts are working. It works. It is doing the job. The cuts are at the right level. And so--with great respect to the honourable member and recognising his strong interest in the matter--the government’s policy on climate-- is right, and it is being proved right.”
• Question time Hansard excerpts (Wednesday): “The questions from the Leader of the Opposition get worse and worse. He is highlighting one of the most reckless proposals the Labor Party has made. Fancy proposing, without any idea of the costs, without any idea of the abatement costs, that 50 per cent of energy had to come from renewables!”. “I repeat: the object is to reduce emissions. The Leader of the Opposition consistently--and it is a problem shared by many people in his party--confuses the means with the end. The object is to reduce emissions. We are reducing emissions, and that is the environmental objective of the Conference of Parties. The methods that we have set in place--that the environment minister has set in place--are working, and the Leader of the Opposition cannot bear the truth about our methods.”
What occurred was largely predicted by the media and key industry commentators.
The Age, Tom Arup: Any changes to the Coalition's climate change policy under Malcolm Turnbull are likely to be slow and subtle. “It's true Turnbull is better attuned to the problem than his predecessor (yes, that's an understatement). But he will also be careful not to spark a war to his political right by moving quickly to a stricter carbon regime. After all Turnbull has already once lost his party's leadership over climate change once (that time as opposition leader over a deal with the Rudd government to implement an emissions trading scheme). The real influence Turnbull may have on climate change policy is more likely to emerge post-election - if he wins of course. The government has created a reset point for climate policy in 2017-18 because it knows it has a policy gap between the programs that are in place and what needs to be done to meet Australia's 2030 target to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent from 2005 levels.
Australian Conservation Foundation: “As a former Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull knows intimately the depth of Australia’s environmental challenges as well as the exciting opportunities we face in growing a clean economy,” said ACF’s CEO Kelly O’Shanassy.
Climate Institute: “All parties and all leaders who say they are serious about climate change need a plan for the modernisation and decarbonisation of our economy,” said John Connor, CEO of The Climate Institute.
Climate Council: Professor Tim Flannery, head of the Climate Council, says he doesn't believe Malcolm Turnbull will have the power to change his party's climate policies. “My general sense is that people are more optimistic than they should be. Turnbull has already said that he is not changing climate policy.”
Nature: Australia's scientists give new prime minister a cautious welcome. “Science had a tough run under the Abbott government’s short-term view, but recognising that research is a major driver of economic growth, I really hope that the Turnbull government will take a much longer-term strategic view of science policy,” adds Leslie Field, secretary for science policy at the Australian Academy of Science.
Sydney Morning Herald, Michael Pascoe: “So the new Prime Minister's first leadership decision has been for Australia not to lead. Depending on who's spinning it, we're either in the middle of the pack or at the back. We're irrelevant to international policy.”
Renew Economy (Monday): “Turnbull is also the first former environment minister to be elected PM. But on the issue of climate change, Turnbull has pledged not to bring back an emissions trading scheme. This evening he said the Abbott government’s “climate policy is one that has been very well designed, a very, very good piece of work. This is a sop to the right, but there is a lot he can do within those parameters.”
Renew Economy (Tuesday): “So what will Turnbull do? Over the next few days, weeks, months, we will find out. But here are eight things he could do right now.”
Renew Economy (Wednesday, pre Question Time): “Of course, Turnbull’s precarious position – quite obviously taken to soothe the party’s ultra-conservative soul – has been pounced on by the Opposition, and branded as a “sell out.””
In other news this week, climate change will be back in the headlines in the United States from Friday when the Pope lands in the country for his first official visit as leader of the Catholic Church. Rolling Stone reports The Pope is taking on climate change and poverty -- but his toughest fight may be with the alliance of conservative clerics and right-wing politicians.
The Pacific Island Forum wrapped up in Port Moresby on Friday with The Age reporting leaders failed to come to a common position on climate change after nine hours of tense talks. “A final communique has accepted that Australia and New Zealand will not back the push by smaller island states for the rise in global temperatures to be limited to 1.5 degrees,” The Age reported.
Kiribati President Anote Tong said the communique recognised that those “on the front line” of global warming were facing a serious problem and were in a “very different” position to Australia and New Zealand. On the ABC environment blog, Larissa Waters, Australian Greens senator for Queensland and a deputy leader of the party said Australia has let down our neighbours in the Pacific.
The Guardian reports Adelaide has joined the race to become world's first carbon neutral city. “The South Australian government is launching a new strategy to decarbonise its economy and has set a goal for Adelaide to become the first carbon neutral city in the world. A low-carbon economy experts panel has been appointed to provide advice on climate policy and how to create jobs in clean energy technology and other low-carbon opportunities. A new strategy paper, which will be open for public consultation, sets a goal of attracting $10bn in low-carbon investment in South Australia.
In science news this week, the Guardian reports London, New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong are some of the cities that would be submerged under the sea if the world burns all of its accessible fossil fuel reserves, a new report has warned. “The carbon emissions given off by the coal, oil and gas would fuel global warming to such an extent that virtually all of the Antarctic ice sheet would melt, pushing the sea level up by 60 metres and flooding the homes of more than a billion people worldwide, the researchers found.” Gizmodo reports the earth's oceans could look completely different by the end of the century. “The changes we’re seeing in response to climate change are much faster than the last millions of years, but maybe ever in the history of the planet,” marine ecologist Ben Halpern of UC Santa Barbara told Gizmodo. Finally, the Guardian says Australians shouldn’t be fooled by cold winters - it is actually getting warmer. “An analysis of 100 years of Australian temperature data has found that in the past 15 years, new records for heat outnumber those for cold by 12 to one, with human-induced climate change the primary factor,” reports the Guardian.
The old adage was that a week is a long time in politics. This century, a day is a long time in politics.
A selection of great reading on climate change politics, policy, innovation and science from Climate Reality Leader Andrew Woodward @climatecomm and www.climatecommunication.net
The Age: Two charts that show how Australia's climate is changing
Climate Communication: Responsibility Plus Bulletin #046
The Conversation, Clive Hamilton: Ignored by the government, shrunk by resignations – where now for Australia's Climate Change Authority?
The Conversation: Carbon coups: from Hawke to Abbott, climate policy is never far away when leaders come a cropper
DeSmog: Who Was Actually Behind Lord Lawson's Idea to Create the Global Warming Policy Foundation?
Guardian: Barnaby Joyce says business case for big new coalmines 'no longer stacks up'
Newsweek: Climate Change Will Cause the World's Next Migration Crisis
nymag.com: The Republican Plot to Destroy an International Climate Agreement
Quartz: Study: Renewable energy saves lives
Sustainable Brands: Klein Asks: What If Confronting the Climate Crisis Is Our Only Chance to Build a Better World?
Washington Post: The simple statistic that perfectly captures what climate change means
vice.com: The US Owes the World $4 Trillion for Trashing the Climate
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This Week in Climate Change (formally The Week That Was), a weekly review of climate change politics, policy, innovation and science from Climate Reality Leader Andrew Woodward. @climatecomm