Budget silent on climate change

With links to climate denialism, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation spends government money on self-congratulatory billboards.

The likelihood of Australia meeting its obligations under the 2015 Paris Climate agreement to cut emissions by 26–28% by 2030 (compared with 2005 levels) is becoming a vain hope if budget provisions are any indication.

In the past three years, carbon emissions have risen, but spending on addressing climate change is projected to almost halve from the current $3 billion to $1.6 billion for 2018–19.

The $2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund [ERF], which was set up by the Tony Abbott government to substitute for the carbon tax, was not topped up in this year's budget. There was $265 million unspent.

The lack of climate funding "is really, really distressing", research associate at Melbourne University's Climate and Energy College Tim Baxter said. "This isn't the trajectory we need to be having right now — we need to be amping up, not winding down.”

The largest environmental spending item in the budget was $535.9 million "to secure the future of the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef and the jobs it supports". This contradicts government support for the opening up of new coalmines in the Galilee Basin and huge land clearing in Cape York, which will impact on water quality.

According to the Treasurer, $443.8 million of the $535.9million will go to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, aimed at improving the reef's resilience, such as by improving water quality. Dealing with the effects of climate change, though, was not stated as a target for the funds. There was no explanation why the full $535.8million did not go to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Department of the Environment and Energy, rather than to a group whose board is made up of climate change sceptics and fossil fuel and other big business donors to the Liberal Party.

The foundation has coal group Peabody Energy on its Chairman’s Panel. Peabody has funded anti-climate change activism. There are myriad other links to fossil fuel operators, including Mitsubishi, Rio Tinto, BHP, Origin Energy, AGL and ConocoPhillips Australia. Chairperson John Schubert was formerly chief executive of Esso Australia, whose parent company Exxon has also been involved in advocating against climate science.

Many of these companies have been outed as tax dodgers, so would have been well able to fund this research from their own resources.

Climate Council acting CEO Dr Martin Rice said it is disappointing the federal budget appeared to ignore climate change, despite greenhouse gas levels continuing to rise for more than three consecutive years.

“The federal government’s failure to seriously tackle climate change is an embarrassment,” he said. “Australia is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change in the developed world, with worsening extreme weather events including severe heatwaves, supercharged storms, heavy rainfall, flooding, droughts and bushfires.”

The budget has proposed $37.6 million over five years towards implementing the recommendations of the Finkel Review, the Energy Security Board’s planned National Energy Guarantee (NEG) and improving the functioning of the gas market, but fell short on new funding to embrace the rollout of clean, affordable and reliable renewable energy and storage technology.

“Australia is at risk of further cementing its reputation as a global laggard when it comes to slashing growing greenhouse gas pollution levels and tackling climate change,” said Rice. “We cannot continue to sit on our hands, while nations like New Zealand and France show real climate leadership.”

He said the federal government’s budget announcement of a $500 million Great Barrier Reef package would do little to tackle the biggest threat to the iconic reef that was devastated by back-to-back bleaching in 2016–17.

“[Five hundred million dollars] towards combating water quality issues, such as agricultural runoff and the culling of the crown-of-thorns-starfish will do little to address the root cause of the problem and is nothing more than a gold-plated bandaid solution,” he said.

“Intensifying climate change is the real culprit, responsible for driving severe marine heatwaves leading to unprecedented mass coral bleaching in 2016 and again in 2017.

“The solution is here. Australia must roll out credible climate and energy policy that ramps up our transition to clean, affordable and reliable renewable energy and storage technology, while moving away from our polluting fossil fuel past. The only thing standing in our way is political will.”

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