Malcolm Turnbull Stands By ‘Pitiful’ Emissions Target In Paris, Bishop Continues War On Renewables At Home

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The PM’s decision to sign Australia on to the next period of the Kyoto protocol has been met with cautious praise. But advocates for climate action in Paris say the symbolic move, and Turnbull’s lofty rhetoric, don’t go close to undoing the damage done by Tony Abbott. Thom Mitchell reports from the UN climate summit in Paris.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been accused of effectively bringing nothing to the table and continuing Tony Abbott’s climate recalcitrance at climate talks that began in Paris today.

Turnbull was one of 150 national leaders in Paris for the first full day of the historic two-week climate negotiations, geared at securing a new pact to combat global warming, and delivered one of a litany of short leader’s speeches.

While an announcement the government will ratify the second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol was broadly welcomed, the move is a symbolic gesture that essentially confirms the five per cent decrease on 2005 level greenhouse gas emissions both Labor and Coalition governments have already committed to.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt told the ABC this morning that the move was the ‘big story’ from the day’s events in Paris, though himself referred to it as symbolic.

On the sidelines of the United Nations summit Greens Deputy Leader Larissa Waters told New Matilda the move is “welcome in that all countries should ratify their actual commitments, but when the commitment is to a pitiful five per cent reduction target, it doesn’t actually make it any sweeter that the pitiful target is now legally binding”.

new matilda, larissa waters
Greens Deputy Leader Larissa Waters in Paris. (IMAGE: Thom Mitchell).

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten took a similar tack, suggesting that ratifying the target is “fine as far as it goes… but it’s not exactly setting the world on fire.”

The World Wildlife Fund Australia’s National Manager on Climate Change, Kelly Caught, said the government should “use ratification as an opportunity to formally increase Australia’s 2020 carbon pollution reduction target after the PM said Australia will meet and beat it”.

In his short speech to the conference Turnbull persisted with the lofty language that has characterised his Prime Ministership, suggesting Australia has “great optimism and faith in humanity’s genius,” and that “we firmly believe that it is innovation and technology which will enable us both to drive stronger economic growth and a cleaner environment”.

The rhetorical flourish was underpinned by two other announcements: $1 billion in aid to assist developing nations adapt to the effects of climate change, and a $100 million spend on clean energy research and development. Despite the figures, the commitments do not appear to involve any significant new money.

“Prime Minister Turnbull provided some nice ‘moonshot’ rhetoric in his turn at the leaders’ day in Paris today, emphasising technological innovation as the best response to the climate crisis while neglecting any new movement beyond the government’s existing emissions reductions targets,” said Professor Christopher Wright of the University of Sydney Business School, and Sydney Environment Institute.

“Ratifying Kyoto two and providing $1 billion in climate finance over four years to developing economies drew some applause – this was after all a very different style of Australian response to the previous Prime Minister – but behind the lofty rhetoric there was little that was new,” he said.

Prof Wright said “the climate finance commitment comes from Australia’s existing, much denuded aid budget,” and did not represent an additional commitment.

Regardless of where it comes from, Waters said the contribution represents around one seventh of Australia’s ‘fair share’ of developing nations’ climate finance bill.

“We’ve basically just extended out a really small contribution,” the Greens Deputy Leader argued.

Waters noted that the first day of climate talks did bring the promise of more than US $250 million from 11 nations, including more than US $50 million from Germany and the United States and just over US $45 million from France.

She said the Australian government’s pledge of $100 million for clean energy research and development was not really new money either as it represents a return of earlier funds slashed by the Abbott government. Waters said the Coalition had cut the research and development budget by $237 million in 2013 alone, taking it to its lowest in 30 years, and that “they want praise for putting $100 million back, which is less than half of what they cut”.

“When you put that in the context of other countries who made, just in the last 48 hours, really significant increases in their pledges under the financing rules, Australia’s barely lifted our ambition,” she said.

“Turnbull’s inspiring oratory of a brave new world of innovation which magically ensures continued economic growth while responding to climate change,” Prof Wright said, “stands in marked contrast to the reality of little significant ambition in tangible action to avert an existential crisis of our own making”.

Waters said that Turnbull’s comments were actually quite ironic, given they “fly in the face of the fact that just yesterday in question time, Australian time, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said that it was still government policy to cut the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which are the bodies that are funding innovation and research and development into clean energy”.

“He’s in the sweet spot because he’s holding out to the Australian community that he’s not Tony Abbott, and he’s sort of implying with all of his rhetoric that there will be some change and he is still committed to climate action while simultaneously promising the backbenchers in his own party and in the Coalition that he won’t change a thing,” she said.

“So he’s able to keep everybody happy with two contradictory positions, but that can’t last and I think with today’s announcement it just really signifies that in fact nothing has changed.”

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Thom Mitchell

Thom Mitchell is New Matilda's Environment Reporter.

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