My resignation from the Climate Change Authority

Earlier today, I wrote to Josh Frydenberg, the Minister for Energy and Environment, resigning as a Member of the Climate Change Authority. Mine is the third recent resignation: Clive Hamilton resigned in February, and Danny Price a couple of days ago. There’s a story in the Guardian here. My resignation statement is over the fold.

Resignation from the Climate Change Authority: Statement by John Quiggin

I have written today to the Minister for the Environment and Energy, the Hon Josh Frydenberg MP to submit my resignation as a Member of the Climate Change Authority.

My immediate reason for doing so is the government’s failure to respond, as legally required, to the Third Report of the Special Review undertaken by the Authority at the government’s request. The government has already indicated that it will reject the key recommendations of the review, particularly the introduction of an emissions intensity scheme for the electricity industry.

The government’s refusal to accept the advice of its own Authority, despite wide support for that advice from business, environmental groups and the community as a whole, reflects the comprehensive failure of its policies on energy and the environment. These failures can be traced, in large measure, to the fact that the government is beholden to rightwing anti-science activists in its own ranks and in the media. Rather than resist these extremists, the Turnbull government has chosen to treat the vital issues of climate change and energy security as an opportunity for political pointscoring and culture war rhetoric.

I do not believe there is anything useful to be gained by providing objective advice based on science and economic analysis to a government dominated by elements hostile to both science and economics.

I will therefore continue my advocacy for a sustainable response to climate change without the constraints imposed by membership of the Climate Change Authority. I wish the Authority as much success as is possible in its difficult task.

45 thoughts on “My resignation from the Climate Change Authority

  1. Presumably the Government is not obliged to act on policy recommendations of the CCA. You can scarcely describe its failure to do so as a “comprehensive failure”. I think you need to just keep chipping away with your views that many do strongly support. Arthur Sinodinos has recently compared climate denialists to anti-vaxxers. The conservative side of Australian politics is not completely right-wing, anti-science. There are political realities and there is sound public policy. I agree it is frustrating.

  2. Congratulations.

    I’m REALLY concerned about climate change and all the denial about it and the resulting lack of the required action. The deniers are everywhere including prominently in the senior ranks of the governments of both Australia and now the USA. Some of you will have already seen the ABC 4 Corners program highlighting the international security issues raised by climate change. Most of those interviewed were tied to the US military in some way – advisors and retired military chiefs of the various services. Such people are usually realistic about security threats. And if you are about to say something about Generals and the mess in Iraq and now the whole Middle East, remember Iraq was the work of those war criminals Blair, Bush and Howard, politicians all, military people none of them – Bush even shirked his military training did he not?

    I became aware of the security issue in 1991 when writing a minor thesis. At the time I was thinking of sea level rise that flooding parts of Bangladesh, my exemplar country. My question was: would it be reasonable to expect Bangladeshis just to stand there while the sea rose gradually to their ankles, their knees, and then drowned their young kids and DO NOTHING? NO CHANCE. They would move putting pressure elsewhere. Soon enough people would be fighting over land they needed to feed themselves. And that would then have an Amazon butterfly like effect. As the program points out this sort of thing is already happening. Droughts have contributed to the fighting in the Middle East and to the mass migration of people. That in turn is contributing to the rise of the red neck parties here, in Europe and probably the US too.

    I just cannot understand why Turnbull, and his idiotic (truly) predecessor Abbott and America’s Trump, all of them concerned about national security, cannot hear what the security advisors are saying. The advisors have been issuing their warnings for some time – nothing new in the warnings. Oh and locally I would not quarantine Labor and the Greens from criticism.

    One problem is the lack of effective continuing coordination between the various groups in Australia and I suppose elsewhere. They all have their specific agendas and trade-offs and probably all have people wanting to be “The Man” or “The Woman” speaking for the group. Hubris trumping common cause. As a result we risk leaving the world to the cockroaches.

    You may already have seen this program but if not it’s worth a look, only 45 minutes.

  3. As a putative environmentalist, HC, with a personal and avowed interest in loss of bird habitat why didn’t you say “many of us support”? FYI, definition of mealymouthed: “adjective; avoiding the use of direct and plain language, as from timidity, excessive delicacy, or hypocrisy; inclined to mince words…”

  4. They deserve a good kicking for their attitude to the science. Thanks for the work and for a fine send-off…

  5. Understandable, but sad that it should be necessary.
    Does this mean you can now contribute to the Climate Change Council?

  6. Regretable but fully understandable John. Still at least you will be able to call a spade a shovel more now depending on the confidentiality agreements you had to sign.

    I expect you are also experiencing the pain of a separation/grieving you dont deserve. I think people forget that unless one is a Hollywood/Gold Coast soap actor, or a lawyer who has no centre or moral framework and principles mean nothing to (MT?) separation from such a life’s work/project you have put your heart and soul into is traumatic. I hope the hangover isnt too bad. Maybe a well deserved holiday somewhere you have been in effect fighting for like a Pacific archipelago is in order.

  7. Because, Jack, my personal view is fairly inconsequential. John Q knows, anyway, that I am a strong supporter of taking decisive action to address climate change. Why is it difficult for you to display even basic respect and courtesy? Why the need to attack?

  8. Human-caused climate change is already demonstrably having a serious effect on many Australian ecosystems. Climate change is also having an impact on agriculture, and on the cost of maintaining property and safety above and beyond the previous costs of such.

    The emissions-mitigating impact of a carbon price is also demonstrable following Gillard’s introduction of one, as is the reverse effect of the LNP’s removal of the same price. It is further demonstrable that many, many expert sources have advised the government time and time again to act to mitigate fossil carbon emissions, and that they have refused to take the most effective options (or any substantive ones at all…) to do so.

    It is also demonstrable that the LNP government has a sworn duty to its citizens, and their natural heritage, to ensure their welfare. They to do so (usually with hand on Bible) when they take office. Given the above, it would seem that the government is derelict in its duty, and is therefore legally culpable.

    It’s probably past time that this was tested in court, in Australia.

  9. @hc
    “Presumably the Government is not obliged to act on policy recommendations of the CCA. You can scarcely describe its failure to do so as a “comprehensive failure”. ”

    Seriously – is there anything about this governments actions on energy or environmental policy that isn’t a comprehensive failure? As someone with young kids I find it difficult not to condemn the current generation of leadership in both government and the private sector. Clueless and malign is an understatement.

  10. It is terrifying that the world is becoming full of ostriches with their heads on the sand.
    We have known about climate change since the 1970s.
    China, one of the World’s biggest polluters, is now on board with the need to change. Northern Europe is very aware.
    But the anglosphere is taking a suicidal stance of denial.
    What can we do?

  11. @hc
    There are not political realities.

    There are people unwilling to accept realities who are being listened to by those who can and are obliged to act by the nature of their job.

    Political realities are like alternate facts. They are in the mind.

  12. @hc
    (The conservative side of Australian politics is not completely right-wing, anti-science)
    True, but the scripts they tend to fall prey to are cooked up by the same transnational think tanks who float slogans and half truths in the Australian market, scoping out how to refine v2 of the message in a different time or place, slightly edited.
    The same people as are played by the melodrama of fake scandals to watch the pigeons rush in on the half truths, as a rehearsal for another round
    The script comes back edited.
    For example, Hansen’s came back marked s/Asian/Muslim/
    Whether the Murdochracy is also ferrying these, that depends on the issue

  13. I understand your personal decision on a matter of principal as i see it.
    One can not stand by and be tarred with the same brush as the decisions or in this case lack of decisions put in place.
    Principles in people, who have office, are to be applauded.

  14. The blindness of the denialists only seems to be intensifying as the crisis comes closer. This is probably par for the course for denial in general. The stronger the level of cognitive dissonance and the greater the threat of impending total collapse of a long held position, the more such people dig in and become ever more illogical and blind to facts. It may also be akin in some ways to freezing with fear. It takes a lot of courage to see how serious the situation is becoming.

    These comfortable right-wingers, cushioned by wealth for so long, cannot absorb the reality that nature (the physical and biological laws) is stronger than economics, especially their (bourgeois) economic system. They are effete intellectual cowards hiding under their rocks (or in their gated communities) unable to face the hard thoughts and make the hard and necessary decisions. And they are especially unable to combine the correct clarity of thought in the correct arenas with the correct inclusive and humanitarian attitudes. It takes more courage and toughness to care than to be callous. They just don’t get it. They are dinosaurs who understand nothing about the evolving real situation.

  15. This is a case of premature evacuation. Labor will probably win the next election and will then require the support of the Greens to legislate an emissions intensity scheme and other climate policies. The CCA will then have a criticsal role to play. The handful of peoole on the inside will have the opportinity to be influential. Those on the outside will be one voice in a cacophany of critics.

  16. I see in the Guardian that you were appointed for 5 years in 2012. I think it is reasonable that assume that you would not have been re-appointed (though, you never can be really sure) so, fair enough, jump and give them a gobful on your way out rather than being pushed, where an exiting gobful would be interpreted as bitterness at not being reappointed.

  17. Good for you John. No one should continue to work for an organisation whose advice is continually ignored. This Government is so absolutely void of leadership on climate action, lt is disgraceful.

  18. Very proud of you for taking a stand. Hope you can make a big difference. It is a disgrace that our govt. does not value the advice of people like yourself. You are needed – speak up.

  19. It’s the honorable way to strenuously object to the mismanagement of ones overseers but I do wonder if some of those US officials who have chosen to be in the firing line and endure being fired as a consequence may have it right. Pr Quiggin – does your resignation n free you to act in other ways?

    Despite it all, even as the issue rises to the fore our journalists still do not subject our LNP politicians to any real scrutiny over their climate disbeliefs – One Nation senators perhaps, to some extent, but not LNP members and especially not senior members. Entrenched disbelief in the seriousness of the climate problem looks to me like it’s the foundation the otherwise nonsensical positions the LNP oscillates back and forth between is built upon. Framing the energy issue as about security and cost imperatives with emissions reduction imperatives treated (with real care taken to make it sound like it’s some kind of self evident, inarguable truth) as intrinsically incompatible would not work except that our mainstream media oscillates between extreme incompetence and willful partisanship.

  20. Good stuff , John . Sadly the fire at our old school (Enfield High ) has added even more carbon to the atmosphere . I have apologised to many young people on our generation’s behalf as we are responsible for the unfortunate predicament we are rapidly spirally towards .
    Glad , there are people like you still putting up a fight against the idiots !

  21. Ikonoclast :
    The blindness of the denialists only seems to be intensifying as the crisis comes closer… The stronger the level of cognitive dissonance and the greater the threat of impending total collapse of a long held position, the more such people dig in and become ever more illogical and blind to facts.
    These comfortable right-wingers… They are effete intellectual cowards…

    I agree with all this, but the denialist attitude is very common among the “working class” too.

    Discussing climate change almost daily with my colleagues, blue collar battlers to a man (I’m one too), it’s clear that the implications of acknowledging climate science are very unattractive to blokes and threatening to their treasured blokes’ activities and way of life.

    You need a 4WD to tow the boat down the range and hammer out to the outer reef, and climate change action obviously threatens these defining pastimes. We find it very difficult to acknowledge that our fossil-fueled lifestyle is causing the destruction of our beloved GBR, so we insist that it can’t be so.

    I can’t see any solution to this other than catastrophic climate change impacts which blokes can no longer ignore, and they’ll probably come too late.

  22. And of course, Prof John Quiggin had no option other than to resign from the Climate Change Authority. The Turnbull Govt wants it to serve as a figleaf, a pretence that it is taking the issue seriously.

  23. @Ron E Joggles

    Plenty of truth to that. I do plenty of rationalising to myself like;

    (a) I caught an electric train to work most of my working life (I am virtuous).
    (b) It was powered by coal fired electricity. (I am not virtuous.)
    (c) I drive a car less kilometers per year than the average Aussie. (I am virtuous.)
    (d) The average poor third world person doesn’t even have a car. (I am not virtuous.)
    (e) I don’t fly very often. (I am virtuous.)
    (f) Most people still don’t fly at all. (I am not virtuous.)
    (g) I got solar power. (I am virtuous.)
    (h) I only got it in the last 5 years. (I am not virtuous.)

    The list goes on and on. An honest assessment is that I am still a climate criminal by any proper and necessarily stringent standard for saving the planet.

  24. @Louise
    I think that’s a good idea. All we need is a climate change science accepting philanthropist. That’s not meant to be cynical. Does anyone know someone like that?

    Plus we need a bright young lawyer who wants to make his/her mark. think Spy-catcher, was it the Oz case, etc.

  25. Totally agree with what you say and support your stance! This governments failure to adopt a progressive stance on energy and climate will cost Australia dearly.

  26. Oh, Louise, you clever person.

    This is a direction that needs implementing in sunny Australia of all places on earth.

    Environmental Lawyers, where are you?

    There will need to be action on the Executive level as well as the Personal level.

    That is a cause I will donate money towards.

  27. I will pledge initially $2000 on behalf of my family members (4) to the cause of suing the Australian government for its failure to take constructive and aggressive action on climate change and energy sustainablility, and to hold the principle decision makers to account for their failure of duty of care to the Australian public and our territories.

  28. Where to start John Homan? That would depend on your knowledge of Global Warming, the current stage of Climate Change, energy consumption and energy efficiency, environment, population change and technology. There is no one factor, it is a complex montage of physical forces, the natural environment and human dynamics.

    It should be obvious that I would have the likes of Abbott along with his cabal in prison in an instant for the self interested waste that he created and we now have to live with indefinitely.

    Perhaps we can start with how you perceive the state of the environment so I know what to address first.

  29. JQ, it seems to me your decision is consistent with your opinion on what would be a reputation saving decision for Malcolm Turnbull, which you posted some time ago. Such decisions aren’t easy.

    “I do not believe there is anything useful to be gained by providing objective advice based on science and economic analysis to a government dominated by elements hostile to both science and economics.”

    And there is ample evidence that policies that are not based on objective (methodologically sound) scientific and economic analysis are counterproductive. For example, the failure to use the abnormally high revenue from the mining boom for infrastructure investment, including the NBN and electricity distribution networks (instead of income tax cuts, starting at the wrong end of the scale), the failure to introduce a super profit tax in time and in a technically competent manner to support renewable energy industries (instead of coal industries), the failure to abolish tax expenditure such as negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions resulted in the federal budget deficit growing steadily, while housing affordability in Sydney and Melbourne has become worse, full time employment across a wide range of occupations is contracting, and wealth concentration is increasing. The RBA is concerned about financial stability. By contrast to a developer driven real estate boom, long term projects such as renewable energy and the NBN entail a demand for a wide range of occupations and income transfers (‘welfare payments’) do provide revenue for small business. etc, etc.

    While being a policy change in the right direction, the changes to the superannuation rules came very late and so did the measures to reduce tax leakages.

  30. JQ your decision is respected and your reasons for resigning more than justifiable. I think ascribing the coalitions rejection of action on climate change to ideology is generous. My personal view is that it is based on greed and pure short-term self interest. There is nothing inherent in conservative ideology that justifies ignoring science or climate change. Even Margaret Thatcher supported action to stop climate change. Nor did they need to adopt an anti-action position to counter Labor, because until recently, Labor has equivocated far too much on action to stop climate change. Witness Qld Labor approving Adani’s uneconomic coal mine.

    The thing that explains Libberal/National policy is money. Mining magnates donate lots of it to right wing election funds. The quid pro quo is that there is no action on climate change, so they can go on selling as much coal, oul and gas as long as possible.

  31. EG
    You can add transport infrastructure to your grimly accurate list of policy failures. When I first started working getting funding for public transport projects, even though they were space and energy efficient, was difficult. Building roads was cheap, and motorist taxes made them self funding. Building railroads was expensive, they were inefficient, and required subsidy.

    Over times things have changed. Our road projcts have become far more expensive, due to rising land and services costs, and many recent freeway projects have BCRs well below one, while falling fuel excise revenue means road expenditure is subsidised. Rail projects have become cheaper in real terms, more standardised, more patronised, and much less subsidised. We can now build an LRT with the capacity of a six lane freeway for 2/3 the cost. Given they are also much more energy and emission efficient, it should be obvious what we should build. But no, we go on with the highest per capita rate of freeway construction in the OECD.

  32. Indeed, Socrates, transport infrastructure, (trains and presumably buses in your applied area and internalisation of transport noise pollution in project evaluation in my applied area) are further relevant examples.

  33. Ernestine
    Yes the same argument applies to funding for buses as well, though less so. In my experience conservative governments often fund busway projects not because they believe in their benefits, but because they are cheaper than rail projects with higher capacity and funding the BRT allows them to avoid funding the rail projects.

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