My submission to the government’s Climate Change Review

Submission’s to the government’s review of climate change policy close on Friday (so there’s still time to send one to, even if it’s just “Stop Adani”). It’s obvious to everyone now, including the government, that energy and climate policy are in a complete mess. So, there must be some chance of a radical change, possibly even one for the better. And there are plenty of options on the table.
I just put in a very short submission, which is below.

The terms of reference for this review refer to the government’s commitment to addressing climate change and to ensuring the adoption of effective policies.  However, these supposed commitments are contradicted by the government’s failure to respond, as legally required, to the Special Review of Australia’s Climate Goals and Policies, undertaken at the current government’s request by the Climate Change Authority.  
The final report of this Review was delivered to the government on 31 August 2016. Under the relevant legislation, the Minister was required to table the government’s response to the recommendations of the Review within six months, that is, by 28 February 2017. This requirement has been ignored.
I was a Member of the Authority until March 2017. I resigned when it became apparent that the government had no intention of responding to, or otherwise taking account of, the comprehensive Special Review in which I had taken part.
The absence of any response reflects the inability of the government to offer a coherent alternative to the policy toolkit recommended by the CCA. The current review should adopt the recommendations of the CCA Special Review, particularly including the introduction of an emissions intensity scheme for the electricity sector.

John Quiggin
Professor of Economics, University of Queensland
Former Member, Climate Change Authority
This submission is made in a private capacity and should not be assumed to represent the views of the University of Queensland or the Climate Change Authority

25 thoughts on “My submission to the government’s Climate Change Review

  1. You have until 5 pm on Friday the 5th to submit.

    Here is my submission on an approach to reducing embedded atmospheric carbon in goods and services. The approach is to outline a solution that requires the government to do no work, cost the government nothing, require no behavioural change, be of social benefit and not line the pockets of rent-seekers and polluters. I have tried to present it in a way that the government can take all the credit and be difficult for the Senate to block. It hasn’t worked before but maybe it will this time:)

    View at

  2. Thanks for correcting me on the closing date, Kevin. Regular readers will know I make this kind of mistake all the time. I’ve fixed it now. The embedded carbon idea looks interesting.

  3. Thanks for the reminder about the date,even if it turns out there was a little more time. I have been angry about the Government and climate policy for a long time and I was annoyed about something as well today. So I indulged myself and made the following submission.

    Submission to Commonwealth Climate Change Review

    I really do not understand why the Commonwealth Government continues to behave so ignorantly on the matter of climate change policy. As things stand, if the Earth and humanity survive long enough what will be the defense of the Liberal and National Parties and their individual members and representatives when they are indicted by a future Climate Change Crimes Commission? Ignorance and uncertainty will not be an acceptable defence – because that would be illogical in view of the facts and stupid.

    For some considerable time now – and certainly long enough for all the climate science illiterates to comprehend – all the rational analysis has pointed to an emissions trading scheme as being the most effective, low cost way of doing something serious about climate change. An emissions trading policy should help save us from what may otherwise become the era of the cockroaches on Planet Earth – because on a climate changed Earth we humans may have disappeared but the cockroaches will certainly thrive.

    If an emissions trading scheme is too hard for the Coalition to implement generally then at least adopt such a policy for the electricity sector.

    To the Government and all its climate science denier friends I say please stop trying to be modern day Neros: stop fiddling while the Earth burns.

    I have absolutely no objection to my submission being published in full without any redactions.

  4. “So, there must be some chance of a radical change, possibly even one for the better.” – J.Q.

    The kind of wry comment I would write if I was clever enough to think of it.

  5. To quote the challenge made by Papua New Guinea to the US delegation at the Bali climate conference in 2007: “If you are not willing to lead, at least get out of the way.”

  6. @James Wimberley

    It’s every superpower’s job to impose themselves on everyone else. It’s what they do, their raison d’être almost. Considerations from the theoretical perspectives of realpolitik and offensive realism tell us that superpowers will always do this.

    However, when I feel close to despair, I remind myself we created the scientific and humanist revolutions and some democracies and ended the worst state-sanctioned forms of slavery, along with removing the criminal death penalty in some countries. This tells me humans can climb up the moral slope and up the wisdom incline. So I have to keep on hoping. Maybe we can resume our journey upward after we defeat neolberalism, alt-right nationalism and the endarkenment era of post-fact thinking and post-truth politics.

  7. Going by their track record there is a strong likelihood that the government response to the climate change review is to order another review. If one review done by the Department of the Environment and Energy is at odds with the review by The Chief Scientist into Electricity it will provide room for deliberate dithering; delay in this case is not seen as a problem, it is seen as a desired outcome.

  8. Ken F. is right.
    I think the strategery Turnbull is pursuing with all climate change and energy policy is obfuscation and delay, on the calculation that there is no coherent renewables policy that will not result in his immediate deposition by the Murdoch right. And if he appeases them with a coherent but non-renewables policy the business elites, seeking certainty and in any case not being fools about where future profitable investment opportunities are likely to be, will desert him.
    Deliberate muddle is his only hope.

  9. @derrida derider

    I think that putting “strategy” in the same sentence as “Turnbull” is overthinking it. At best there is a tactic, which is to win a 24 -hour news cycle every so often, especially one just before a Newspoll is being conducted. The Snowy announcement was a good example.

  10. John
    You are recommending, as the CCA did when you were a member, ‘the introduction of an emissions intensity scheme for the electricity sector’. Others like the Greens, are recommending alternative schemes such as a carbon trading scheme, or a massive expansion of the RET with the RET being met by reverse auctions, as seems to be the option preferred by Giles Parkinson of Reneweconomy.
    What are your reasons for going with an emissions intensity scheme, which on first blush seems to be a compromise approach?

  11. @John Goss
    I pass on Australian policy, but note that there is accumulating evidence from a wide range of countries that auctions are a good way of capturing the falls in the cost of wind and solar. Off the top of my head, UK, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany in offshore wind, India, Mexico, and Chile in solar, Brazil in onshore wind. The one serious objection is that the high risk at the project development stage shuts out community cooperatives, who need a carve-out and an FIT.

  12. Erratum: Submission’s to the government’s review …

    I have no problem with an EIS in principle, but as always, the question is not simply about the structure of rewards and penalties, but the scope of the ambition and the compliance measures.

    The focus should not be on what is lowest cost in absolute terms but rather what is needed to meet adequate abatement targets on the required timelines..

    It doesn’t matter what vessel you cook the food in. What matters is how much of it there is, and whether it gives you what you need.

  13. @John Goss

    It’s a recommendation that is still, in a formal sense, before the government as the recommendation of an inquiry it commissioned. More generally, it’s still the most widely supported compromise and supporting it is therefore the best way of putting pressure on the government.

    My general view is that the differences in design between different versions of the carbon price (permits vs taxes vs EI) aren’t that important. So, I’ll support whatever kind of carbon price seems most salable at any given time.

  14. @John Quiggin

    And that covers only explicit pricing models. There’s also direct state investment in LETs, regulatory action forcing phased closure of existing FHC facilities etc.

    In the interim, FHC energy inputs could be made progressively non-tax-deductible.

    These measures would impose an implicit price on carbon emissions.

  15. “My general view is that the differences in design between different versions of the carbon price (permits vs taxes vs EI) aren’t that important. So, I’ll support whatever kind of carbon price seems most salable at any given time.”

    Absolutely correct. Get a decent price on carbon and how that price is managed becomes, economically and environmentally, a second order issue. So the correct approach in designing the pricing mechanisms is to let the politics dominate rather than worry too much about policy purity.

    That’s why I never objected much to the free permits (ie “compensation”) parts of the Rudd/Gillard’s ETS and thought that the Green’s obstinacy about them was foolish (as events showed); large bribes to some deeply undeserving people was a very acceptable price to pay for getting emissions down.

  16. And of course the more the price of renewables and storage drops, the less difference there is in the impact of the different schemes.

    I often wonder if we were in a situation where all the power generation assets and the distribution networks were owned by government, what would be the optimal path forward from now?

  17. @derrida derider

    That’s why I never objected much to the free permits (ie “compensation”) parts of the Rudd/Gillard’s ETS and thought that the Green’s obstinacy about them was foolish (as events showed); large bribes to some deeply undeserving people was a very acceptable price to pay for getting emissions down.

    Subsequent ‘events’ showed no such thing. Rather, they demonstrated the political incompetence of those who held out their ‘pragmatism’ as the antithesis of Green ‘purism’. The bigger problem was though that the ALP regime was less interested in the Carbon Polluters Reward Scheme passing than in how it passed — ideally with we Greens rejecting it and the Liberals splitting. The scheme, which snatched defeat from the jaws of unalloyed victory was crafted to secure our opposition so that the ALP alone could take ‘credit’ for it, or else make us appear as utterly unethical as they were. The game was the thing. Only when they say their game turning into a debacle did they reach out to us to salvage the latter political advantage.

    We were utterly right to reject this rather clever piece of reactionary political chicanery and leave the ALP to sort out its mess. One upshot of this stupidity was to burn any grudging respect within our party for the Labor regime. Certainly, as someone who’d argued for a degree of credulity about the ALP’s commitments on abatement, the three months from August 2009 were deeply embarrassing.

    As to the substance though, given the regime’s conduct, the free permits, REDD credits, assumptions about CC&S, the timelines, the exclusion of transport and agriculture etc … made this simply unsupportable.

  18. @Fran Barlow
    So Fran I take it you are a member or supporter of the Greens. That’s fine, that’s the general area into which the ABC’s Political Compass puts me. But if so and you stand by what the Greens did then I must say I find your comments unprincipled in the extreme. Are you saying the Greens cared more about the political game than the issue? Perhaps I have misunderstood?

    I suppose either way Australians really do not have much to thank their major political parties for in respect of where we are now on climate change policy.

  19. @Henry Haszler

    You do misunderstand, but also, you misrepresent by missing the point about the political dimensions within which principled struggles are played out.

    We honoured our principles and avoided entrapment in the process.

  20. Fran
    I’m sad to read your comment ‘One upshot of this stupidity was to burn any grudging respect within our party for the Labor regime’. If the result of all the political games at the time was this result, (and you would be in a position to know), then it was most unfortunate for the left in this country. There have always been a significant group within the ALP who have sought to smash the Greens whatever the cost, and those within the ALP who know better have not always been able to restrain this group. It is a pity the Labor Party has not been able to work out a position of competitive cooperation with the Greens, much like the ALP factions have been able to work out with each other.
    It would be fascinating to interview the players in the Labor Party and the Greens in 2009 to try and understand why relationships did get as bad as they did. I hope someone is doing this piece of research. The broad left needs to learn from its mistakes, and we need to know what exactly went wrong in order to understand how to avoid those mistakes in the future.

  21. Until about April of 2009, there remained very considerable goodwill within the party to the Rudd regime. Brown was being consulted fairly regularly, and those who had doubts about the regime’s commitment on matters like climate change were generally willing to give the regime the benefit of the doubt. People tend to want to believe that the things they want to happen will occur, even if they have their doubts. So while we knew what the ALP was, we tended to take Rudd at his word that action on abatement has a grand moral commitment transcending the usual opportunistic game-playing within the traditional lowest common denominators within which they worked.

    After April though, the level of consultation fell away sharply, and this began to increase traditional reservations about the ALP and its commitments. As it turned out, it wasn’t only Brown that was being turned away – but even ALP ministers who were unable to get past the logjam at Rudd’s door. You will recall that Rudd had a ‘Gang of Four’ who were essentially a cabinet within the cabinet and that Cabinet was essentially moribund. Most of us hadn’t processed that reality, but as I said, it began to tarnish the regime.

    Turnbull’s polling fell into the toilet around ‘utegate’ and the apparent rescue of the country from the terror of the ‘GFC’ around July. Garnaut was released and senior Liberals, including Abbott and Minchin, feared a DD on climate policy and said openly that the LNP should basically roll over.

    We figured this would be an easy win and were all set to back the government in implementing it forthwith. Then Penny Wong came out and said that Garnaut was mere ‘input’ and again, those who had begun to urge caution with the ALP found their voice. Over the next few months the ALP regime made clear that they were willing to snatch policy defeat from the jaws of victory for no better reason than to provoke a split in the Liberals, the downfall of Turnbull who had said he wouldn’t lead a party less committed to action on climate change than he was, and wedge us on their left.

    The ‘compromises’ on policy were really, to borrow Rudd’s Copenhagen lexicon, an exercise in ratf***ing the ALP’s enemies on both sides. It very nearly worked, and had Fran Bailey not been absent sick, Turnbull would have survived and given the ALP its preferred outcome. Purely from a game-playing POV it was genius, but it failed — just — and clearly, we were not about to become the enablers of this utterly unprincipled playing with climate policy. Having angled to screw us, he now wanted us to screw ourselves as mere pretenders — as unprincipled ALP toadies.

    Unsurprisingly, there was a collective sigh of unalloyed disgust at the utter debauchery of it all on the one matter we’d been inclined to accept Rudd’s good faith. This utter shambles turned out to be merely the most obvious example of the incipient decomposition of the regime, which went from an impregnable position in July 2009 to a near death experience in August 2010. Even I was surprised at how dysfunctional they became.

    The stupid thing was that they made enemies of us (and large swathes of their own party) without any good cause, and this led to one policy disaster after another and the rise of Abbott and his harpies — which predictably, they blamed on us.

    The ALP as it turned out, was neither principled nor pragmatic in their dealing and so they can scarcely be surprised at how matters developed.

  22. As an American trying to figure out how to contribute to the resistance I am extremely impressed by the intelligence of these posts.
    As you certainly know, in the US, the debate is not how to implement Climate Change Policy, but whether it is necessary at all, a debate promoted by a regime that does nothing but promote its own economic interest and vehemently, possibly violently denies any facts that get in the way.
    I will follow this site with great interest.

  23. But Fran, that’s all very interesting but a bit beside the point. I know enough of the inside story at the time to agree that Rudd was at least as keen on screwing his opponents on both the right and the left as in actually getting carbon emissions down.

    Rudd’s internal line (to at least one other member of the quadrumvirate to my knowledge) was that he could kill all THREE of those birds with the one stone. My question is simply was he right? It’s outcome that matters, not motive. Disraeli said laws are like sausages – you’re much better off knowing how neither are made. Would we have ended up with a better sausage from such a messy manufacture?

    After all the main victim of his failure was not the Greens, much less the know-nothing tory right (who were the big winners), but Australian renewables. So whatever Rudd’s motives given the actual outcome are we not correct to conclude that his success would have been better for the climate than that outcome? And that therefore the Greens made a bad mistake?

    Still, it’s all water under the bridge now.

  24. After all the main victim of his failure was not the Greens, much less the know-nothing tory right (who were the big winners), but Australian renewables.

    Noting the argumentation I made above … i don’t see how renewables were a victim of this turn of events. What brought down the ALP was far more than their nefarious conduct around this area of policy. Rather, it was the intersection of their utterly reactionary dogwhistling vacuity and their game of political survivor in and out of government played by folk who just weren’t very good at it, in circumstances where large sections of the elite felt they could get more from their rivals.

    Nothing we had in the kitbag could change that, and we were right to shrug our shoulders, shake our head in disbelief and wander off to a safe distance.

  25. @Fran Barlow

    Yep, that sums up the modern ALP and their positioning.

    We can note that around the world people are looking for change but they don’t know how to get it. Voting for bankers and billionaires (Turnbull, Macron, Trump) is not the way people are going to get change away from unfettered capitalism. At the same time people, the majority of them, don’t understand the current system nor why it keeps delivering the same results. Look at the choice the French had in the final round of the Presidential vote: a neoliberal banker or a neo-fascist. Some choice. But people inflict it on themselves by not understanding the parameters of the current political economic system.

    “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” There’s some irony if Henry Ford did say that. If we keep capitalist relations we will keep getting what capitalism delivers. In the era of r GT g (Piketty) that means increasing wealth for a few and poverty for the rest, if the system is not changed.

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