Coalition Set For Grilling On Lomborg Funding As Leaks Cast Doubt On Claims


Calls for the Abbott government to explain why it is funding Bjorn Lomborg’s ‘Australian Consensus Centre’ are mounting, with Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon set to push the government to justify the expenditure in Senate Estimates when parliament returns.

The increased pressure comes as leaked talking points cast doubt over Coalition claims the University of Western Australia will also chip in.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the University of Western Australia, which will host the climate contrarian’s think tank, circulated talking points that indicate it will not be providing funds to Lomborg’s centre.

The self-titled “sceptical environmentalist” has gained notoriety for the controversial economic cost-benefit methodology he has developed to value the ‘social good’ of government policies.

Based on that methodology, the Danish statistician concludes that climate change is not a top priority problem, that renewable energy should not be subsidised, and that fears over global warming are overstated.

His work has been largely dismissed by scientists and economists, with entire books devoted to debunking the ‘smokescreen’ of references that appear in the Dane’s own work.

Revelations in the Guardian last week that the government will provide $4 million in funding over four years have been met with anger by large sections of the public, which reports today that the university will not provide funds are likely to exacerbate.

Several senior members of the government have ties to Lomborg, and the talking points reveal that it was the federal government which approached the university about hosting the centre and not the other way around.

Professor Tim Flannery, who headed up the Australian Climate Commission before the government defunded it on taking office, has questioned “why the government has decided to fund Bjorn Lomborg rather than the very eminent group within the Climate Commission”.

“To replace them with a Dane with no credibility or credentials in the area seems rather odd and I think it’s incumbent on them to explain to the Australian public why that is so,” Professor Flannery said.

Professor Colin Butler, who was an author to the most recent IPCC report, said he is concerned that the Coalition is “funding people on the fringe of science whose position is ideologically closer to the government’s”.

In a context of tough budget constraint the government’s political rivals are also angry at the decision.

“At a time when the Abbott government is proposing to cut university funding by 20 per cent and rip millions of dollars out of the research budget, it has found $4 million to fund a Bjorn Lomborg vanity project,” Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon said.

“In the midst of a so-called budget emergency, and with scientists around the country losing research funding, Christopher Pyne must explain why this project has been funded at the expense of other research and higher education priorities,” she said.

The university has defended the centre, which Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Johnson has previously said “will become the go-to place for useful economic research to inform the national and international debate”.

UWA VC Paul Johnson

The ‘Australian Consensus Centre’ will not have climate change as a primary focus but critics argue that the areas it will look at, such as foreign aid and development in third world countries, are implicitly linked to global warming.

“This sends an alarming message to our Pacific island neighbours, who are already feeling the impacts of climate change,” Rhiannon said.

The Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Tanya Plibersek, has expressed similar sentiments.

At a United Nations summit last month the Prime Minister of Vanuatu and a number of other Pacific Island nations pledge with the developed world to do more to tackle climate change, which will exacerbate natural disasters and submerge land in small island states.

Tony Abbott has previously mocked the notion that developed nations should help less developed, lower emitting nations deal with climate change, deriding the United Nation’s Green Climate Fund as a “Bob Brown bank on an international scale”.

Shadow Environment Minister Mark Butler, though, accused the Prime Minister of “deputising one of the world’s most well-known renewable energy sceptics to continue his climate change denial and attacks on renewable energy”.

“Mr Lomborg has no scientific or economic qualifications, and his work has been comprehensively rejected by the scientific community. The Abbott government must explain the basis for this decision,” Rhiannon said.

New Matilda has made repeated requests for comment from minister Pyne’s media advisors, who have not responded to questions about the rationale behind the decision, including what formal cost benefit analysis was undertaken.

Comment has also been sought from the University of Western Australia.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.