Australia

PM's climate policy 'like reheating a microwave meal', environment groups say

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Environment groups say the Morrison government's $2 billion injection into a 'climate solutions' fund shows Tony Abbott is still dictating Australia's climate change policy.

Climate change campaigners say a $2 billion injection into a re-badged Direct Action plan shows Tony Abbott is still steering the government's response to climate change. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the money, to be spent over 10 years, for the renamed "climate solutions" fund on Monday as the centrepiece of the government's climate change policy

Environment groups are unimpressed by the package, which targets the land and agricultural sector while ignoring the heaviest polluting sectors of energy and industry. 

Treasurer Scott Morrison with a lump of coal during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
As Treasurer Scott Morrison brought in a lump of coal to Parliament.
AAP

"The government's approach to climate policy is basically like reheating a microwave meal. It has no real interest in serving up something that is serious and credible," Richie Merzian, from progressive think-tank The Australia Institute, told SBS News. 

The "direct action" Emissions Reduction Fund, set up under Mr Abbott in 2014, provides funding for a range of carbon abatement programs from vegetation management to energy efficiency and transport.  

Mr Merzian said the government's climate change policy could not be taken seriously while it was still prepared to support new coal-fired power stations with taxpayer funds.

 

"On the one hand you have the government willing to pay polluters to reduce their emissions through this climate solutions fund and on the other you have the government willing to pay to build new coal-fired power stations to increase Australia's emissions.

"When will the government actually make polluters pay?"

The Climate Council said the policy was merely "window dressing" unless the government committed to reducing fossil fuels. 

A general view of the Bayswater coal-fired power station cooling towers and electricity distribution wires in Muswellbrook, in the NSW Hunter Valley region, on Sunday, April 22, 2018. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts) NO ARCHIVING
Environment groups have urged the government to reduce fossil fuels.
AAP

"If you're not tackling the root cause, you're not tackling climate change," Climate Council chief executive Amanda McKenzie told SBS News. 

GetUp campaigns director Sam Regester said the direct action plan had failed to reduce emissions and its design prevented serious action on global warming. 

“Scott Morrison’s plan is to revamp a plan he knows doesn’t work," Mr Regester said. "This won’t reduce emissions and ignores the biggest problem making climate change worse: mining and burning coal.”

In a canter? 

The prime minister also used his speech in Melbourne to re-assert that Australia is poised to achieve its Paris Agreement emissions reduction target "in a canter". 

“We will meet our global commitments, and do what is right for our environment, without taking a wrecking ball to the economy," Mr Morrison said. 

Anti Adani protesters are seen outside a hotel where Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces the government's climate package at a function in Melbourne, Monday, February 25, 2019. (AAP Image/David Crosling) NO ARCHIVING
Anti-Adani protesters outside the hotel where Scott Morrison unveiled his climate change policy in Melbourne.
AAP

But Melbourne University climate law expert Tim Baxter said the government was using an "accounting trick" to achieve its "weak" target. 

"Our target is one of the weakest in the developed world," Mr Baxter told SBS News.

Australia has pledged to reduce emissions by between 26 and 28 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. 

Mr Baxter said that pollution was actually increasing, but the government plans to count "Kyoto credits" for overshooting its targets under the soon to be expired Kyoto Protocol. 

Other countries including New Zealand and Germany have ruled out using the surplus credit from the Kyoto Protocol. 

'Paying for hot air'

The National Farmers Federation welcomed the funding announcement. 

NFF chief executive Tony Mahar estimated farmers had cut 157 million tonnes worth of carbon emissions thanks to more than 660 projects funded by the previous Emissions Reductions Fund. 

"Climate change is a key issue for farmers. Adaptation and participation in maturing markets are vital for farm income diversity," Mr Mahar said.

"For example, through methods outlined in the Carbon Farming Initiative, farmers in south west Queensland and western NSW have demonstrated the benefits of diversifying their income by engaging in re-vegetation and avoiding deforestation methodologies."

However, Mr Baxter argued those sorts of changes could easily be funded by the private sector.

"A lot of stuff we're paying for is for things that people are already doing. We're paying for hot air," he told SBS News.

While the conservative think-tank, The Institute of Public Affairs, criticised the government for spending any money to tackle climate change. 

"It's a bad policy," IPA director of economics David Wild said. "It's not in Australia's interests to have any money going to emissions reduction."

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