With August 2016 setting yet another record for global temperatures, the need for action on climate change is obvious. The good news is that most national governments are finally recognising the urgency of the problem. The bad news is that Australia is not among them. Having commissioned a Special Review from the Climate Change Authority (of which I’m a member) and received recommendations designed with the current policy as a starting point, the government’s response has been that it might take another look at the problem in 2017.
I’ve written the statement over the fold in response. Comments very welcome. I won’t engage in discussion; in this context, I’d rather let the statement speak for itself.
Statement by Professor John Quiggin regarding government response to Climate Change Authority Special Review report
1. The Climate Change Authority is an independent body responsible for delivering independent expert advice on climate change policy within the principles set out in the Climate Change Authority Act 2011. In my view, the Authority’s primary obligation is to provide the Parliament, which established it, with a basis on which Parliament can adopt, and the government can implement, policies to meet Australia’s international obligations. As stated in previous reports by the Authority, and reiterated in the current report, our commitment to internationally equitable policies consistent with holding global warming below 2 degrees will require emissions reductions of 40 to 60 per cent below 2000 levels by 2030. This is consistent with the evidence of climate science and with the actions being taken by other countries to meet their commitments.
2. It is therefore appropriate, in my view, for advice on the design of climate policy to take account of the existing settings of policy, the general desirability of consistency and stability in policy, and the policy commitments already made by parties and members of Parliament, . That is, it is appropriate to recommend a policy or policy toolkit that is:
(i) able to be implemented in the short run and scaled up over time to meet Australia’s international obligations, bearing in mind that our existing indicative commitments will themselves be scaled up over time; and
(ii) based on existing policies and capable of commanding broad support in Parliament
even if, in the absence of the constraints imposed by the history of policy in this field, other policies might be regarded as more cost-effective and reliable.
3. Conversely, it is not appropriate for the Authority, as an independent advisory body to accept political constraints that would be inconsistent with the obligation to make recommendations consistent with our international obligations.
4. I believe that the toolkit proposed by the Authority meets the criteria set out in point 2 and I therefore commend it to the Parliament.
5. The Authority’s report has received favourable responses from stakeholders including the Business Council of Australia, AIGroup and the Australian Energy Council.
6. However, an effective response to Australia’s international obligations is feasible only if the major parties, and particularly the government parties, understand the urgency of the problem and are committed to adopting a comprehensive response as soon as possible.
7. Unfortunately, government’s response so far suggests that
(a) the government is unlikely to contemplate any further action before the completion of a review scheduled for the second half of 2017; and
(b) even in the context of this review, the government does not intend to make substantial modifications to current policies along the lines suggested in the Authority’s report.
8. Of particular concern are statements by the Minister for the Environment and Energy to ABC radio that the CCA recommendations were “a report to, not by, government” and that:
Now we’re doing a review in 2017, but it has to be said we are seeing a dramatic transition already in the energy markets in Australia and we are transitioning to a lower emissions future successfully with the policies we currently have in place.
The dismissal of a report requested by the government has been widely interpreted as a rejection of the recommendations. The claim that existing policies are sufficient to achieve a transition to a lower emissions future is entirely inconsistent with the findings of the Authority’s report.
9. These statements are of even greater concern in the light of:
(a) The earlier characterisation of the 2017 review as a ‘situation report’; and
(b) The statement, attributed to the Minister, that the government does not plan to refer any further issues to the Authority for review.
Taken together, these statements suggest that a substantial change in policy as a result of the 2017 review is not anticipated, and that no serious consideration of policy options will be undertaken prior to the review.
10. The problem is exacerbated the omission from the 2016-17 budget of any additional funding for the Emissions Reduction Fund;
11. In practice, the government’s apparent position is likely to preclude the implementation of any effective policy response during the term of the current Parliament.
12. Should the government fail to act now, the toolkit proposed by the Authority is unlikely to prove sufficient to meet Australia’s international commitments. More radical and costly action in the future will be needed to offset the growth in emissions caused by short term inaction.
13. I urge the government to reconsider its position and adopt the recommendations of the Authority’s review as a matter of urgency. I urge the Parliament as a whole to seek agreement on an approach to climate policy that can be sustained, and scaled up, over the period to 2030 and beyond, consistent with Australia’s international obligations.