The fourth and final Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report (AR6) on the status and effectiveness of our global action on emissions was released this week.
It is important to me and to the people who voted for me in 2022 that we do not fall into the traps of thinking that no more work needs to be done on climate and emissions, that what the ALP government has done is adequate, and that the Liberal Party’s claims are challenged when warranted. So, I feel I have to respond to the Member for Bradfield’s recent discussion with Peter Stefanovic on Sky in the wake of the latest IPCCC report. I am not going to link to the Member’s website, but you can read the full interview transcript there.
The “Last Chance Saloon” agrees Sky News, and the Liberal Party response is?
PETER STEFANOVIC: Now, as the government debates safeguards mechanisms, what's your reaction to that report overnight? Because it kind of sounds like we're in the Last Chance Saloon here.
FLETCHER: Well, good morning and good to be with you. Clearly, the Liberal Party is committed to net zero by 2050. So, the issue is not the objectives, but the mechanism by which we get there. You know, when we were in government, we achieved a reduction of 20% on 2005 levels by 2020. We're now debating, for example, in the Parliament, the safeguard mechanism which in effect amounts to a carbon tax.
The Liberal National Coalition had several decades in government to accept and act on the climate science, and they failed dismally. The Manager for Opposition Business is regurgitating claims that were long ago disproved, e.g. by the ABC/RMIT Fact Check. We must judge our politicians, especially when they were/are in government, by their actions and not just their words.
The Liberal National Coalition committed Australia to net zero emissions by 2050, a full 25 years after Australia was asked to (at Kyoto in 1997). Over that 25-year period, it was in government for almost 20 years and as a nation, we have very little to show for it but grant programs, based on government picking winners and channelling public taxes to private companies for marginal savings in emissions. It’s why when I hear the LNP’s inertia now, and its active hostility to the feeble positive actions of the current ALP government, I feel disappointed in my local representative.
I can draw only two possible conclusions, not necessarily exclusive. The first is that the Liberal Party is trapped, unable and unwilling to move beyond championing the interests of its fossil fuel donors to recognise that they are not only inconsistent with our national interest but actively harm it. Or secondly that the Liberal Party is willing to sacrifice our nation’s progress on tackling climate and risk all of the upside for business and employment and communities, just for the sake of culture wars, petty point scoring and word games. The "tricky and mean" legacy continues, and apparently can't be shaken.
The safeguard mechanism
FLETCHER: If companies, the 215 companies, that would be targets of it [the safeguard mechanism] don't meet the requirement to reduce emissions by 4.9% a year, each year, then they end up paying effectively a $75 carbon tax.
The objects of the safeguard mechanism are facilities, not companies. It’s closer to 150 companies that manage the 215 facilities. The Manager of Opposition Business needs to understand his brief better. The details matter.
International trade threats
FLETCHER: And of course, one of the environmental consequences of that is that could cause activity like steel making concrete and so on, to move offshore to countries which don't have the same environmental standards in Australia.
I wonder how many steel and concrete manufacturers the Member of Opposition Business has engaged with to inform his position. The assertion that the safeguard mechanism will force steel firms offshore is not supported by any evidence. In fact, our domestic steel industry has been in trouble for some time, and it’s arguable that earlier action to support it on a transition to cleaner inputs may have helped it remain internationally competitive, rather than the conditions the industry is now experiencing. Our international offtake markets are legislating and have legislated to take carbon emissions into account in high intensity production like steel, e.g. just two weeks ago, the US Republican congressman Lindsey Graham proposed a US Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) against high steel imports into the US.
“We’re examining it,” said John Kerry, Biden’s special presidential envoy for climate, in the Capitol Thursday. “Europe has one. Others are talking about it. We’re talking about it.”
The world is moving on; the Liberal Party is not.
A global challenge
FLETCHER: I think what the IPCC report reminds of if this is a global challenge. Every country needs to play its part.
No-one has ever denied that addressing high emissions is a global challenge. That is not an excuse for any individual country not to play its part.
Australia is one of the highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gas emissions in the world – still – and that’s not counting our role as the third largest fossil fuel export nation (we’ll rank higher if all the extant fossil fuel exploration applications are approved!). We more than merit a position as a country that is morally bound to take action.
These problems are complex, but sometimes simple analogies work. If you take your kids out for a picnic to see fireworks on New Year's Eve, do you tell them it’s OK not to clean up their mess unless everyone else does?
It would be funny if it wasn’t so important
FLETCHER: What's important is that we have clear and achievable mechanisms and we do have in the Labor Party a government that's very keen on symbolism and bold promises, but they're often very, very weak on the mechanisms of how you get there. And so that's one of the questions certainly we're debating when it comes to the safeguards mechanism.
This is just ideological posturing. The safeguard mechanism, flawed as it is, was a Coalition government invention. Either it was symbolic then, and they never intended to implement it fully, or it was practical, in which case they can’t object now to it being improved. Under the LNP, the mechanism delivered precisely zero heavy industry decarbonisation once introduced. Perhaps, after all, it was symbolic? Either way, it appears the current Government is attempting to strengthen it, by both incentivising big polluters to go hard early (and banking some of their credits for future years, or selling them to others to finance even deeper cuts in emissions, or return improved dividends to shareholders) and by requiring big polluters to actively reduce their emissions year on year against an agreed baseline. Even if you acknowledge that this is still too weak, it is much, much more than what was done under the LNP.
Gas as a transition fuel
FLETCHER The challenge then for policymakers in Australia is what are the achievable, deliverable processes to get to the outcome. And I'll give you one example. It's well accepted that natural gas is a key transition fuel, so that we can reduce our reliance on coal.
I agree with the Manager of Opposition Business here – it is well accepted that natural gas is a key transition fuel, but in the late 1990s, not here in 2023. A transition fuel is just that – temporary – and lasts only until we can get energy production onto a sustainable renewable footing which, apart from the tremendous manufacturing and environmental benefits it will bring, will also give us energy security, something that the former Coalition government refused to seriously work towards. The Manager of Opposition Business shows his thinking is wedded to the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association talking points recycled over the last two decades.
The role of the G20
STEFANOVIC: The UN has argued the G20 nations, which includes us, should now be fast tracking our net zero targets to 2040. So that's ten years earlier. Would you support such a move?
FLETCHER: Look, I'm not going to get into detailed responses to a extremely…
STEFANOVIC: Doesn't need to be detailed, yes or no.
FLETCHER: That's just issued overnight. I'll leave these matters, first of all, to the government. …. But I'm not going to engage in responding.
But didn’t the Manager of Opposition Business just criticise the current Government for not having detailed mechanisms?
In any case, Stefanovic asked for a statement in principle, which the Liberal Party spokesperson was unable to provide. Leading Australian firms like Macquarie Group and Fortescue Metals Group have committed to net zero emissions by 2040; the Liberal Party remains entirely underwhelming on acting in alignment with the climate science and the Paris Agreements common but differentiated responsibilities.
The role of the private sector
FLETCHER: Well what I'd say is a clear focus for the Coalition has always been what are the practical mechanisms to achieve these things and how do you get the private sector, which is absolutely critical, going through these processes? That's why we had a clear focus on technology, not taxes. And we have a government right now which has, you know, a strong appetite for symbols, grand, symbolic gestures. Our focus has always been methodically what are the mechanisms within the economy that will get these outcomes and we'll continue to engage actively with it long term.
More ideology. The “technology vs taxes” formulation is just a slogan. Of course the private sector has a role, just as the vast sums waiting in the finance sector for investment signals and some sign of a coherent and consistent government policy, have a role. It will be good when they are allowed to properly play the roles that the Coalition prevented them from playing previously.
FLETCHER: But what is clear is that, as we've always known, this is a global challenge and it needs every country to play its part. China needs to play part and every other country needs to play.
STEFANOVIC: Is China playing its part?
FLETCHER: Well those are questions that properly will need to be analysed after a careful study of what is a very detailed report.
STEFANOVIC: I mean, people will say, well, why do we need to do all of this if China isn't?
The Manager of Opposition Business hedges his answer on China. Let’s be clear instead: China is leading the world in developing decarbonised industries. 60% of all global EVs were sold in China in 2022 and 27.8% of all China car sales in 2022 were EVs. Since July 2021 China has operated the world’s largest emissions trading scheme. China also leads the world on strategic mineral processing, even though Australia has more naturally strategic assets than our trade partner.