Andrea Bunting

Another United Nations climate conference (COP23) is over — though many people would have barely noticed, given the lack of media coverage. The Paris Climate Agreement is locked in and, contrary to the Coalition’s inetrpretation, Australia needs to ratchet up its emissions reduction.

This is a useful time to reflect on where Australia sits globally on climate action and what areas are of concern.

Australia’s behaviour at the UN Climate Conference in Bonn (COP23) has been described as that of a bully. Australia has collected a swag of “Fossil of the Day” awards — given daily by climate activists to the country or group doing its best to stop effective action on climate change.

Australia, along with the US, has been disgracing itself in one of the most contentious areas of the climate talks, known as Loss and Damage. Other developed countries, particularly the European Union and Canada, have not been very helpful either.

The Untied States is now the only country trying to undermine the Paris Agreement on climate change. While other countries are pledging to cut their emissions — often inadequately, but at least accepting the need — the US intends to raise them.

Meanwhile, the US is taking a step forward on the geoengineering path. Geoengineering, specifically Solar Radiation Management (SRM), refers to large-scale human interventions into the Earth’s climate. These aim to cut the levels of solar radiation that reach the Earth’s surface to artificially cool the planet.

Climate activists awarded Australia the very first “Fossil of the Day” at the UN Climate Conference in Bonn, being held from November 6-17. This award is given daily to the country judged to be doing the best to block effective progress on climate change.

Australia got the award for actively supporting the development of coal mining in the Galilee Basin, particularly the Adani project. Fittingly, Australia was presented the award by Pacific Islanders, who are very vulnerable to climate change impacts.

Finally, the federal government has a policy for the electricity sector: the National Energy Guarantee. (NEG. Did it think this one through?)

It is, effectively, an emissions trading scheme applied to electricity. It is similar to other schemes — the Clean Energy Target (CET) and the Emissions Intensity Scheme (EIS) — supported by Labor.

In Australia, the National Electricity Market is rapidly becoming dysfunctional, with power shortages, blackouts and soaring prices making headlines.

Private companies are refusing to invest in new fossil fuel generators to replace those that have closed. This “investment strike” is due partly to uncertainty about carbon pricing and partly to increasingly volatile spot prices received by generators.

Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel presented the Blueprint for the future: Independent review into the future security of the national electricity market, known as the Finkel Review, to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Leaders’ meeting on June 9.

The mainstream media has focused on one recommendation — a Clean Energy Target — and the Coalition’s reaction.

Readers may have noticed that Australia is in the midst of an energy war. On one side are right-wing commentators attacking renewable energy at every turn. On the other side are renewables advocates, quick to retaliate, sometimes without considering the whole story.

The Donald Trump regime in the United States is stepping up its attacks on clean energy, and emboldening the Australian federal government to do likewise.

Trump has recently appointed Scott Pruitt as Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency. In his first interview, Pruitt announced that he would eliminate the Clean Power Plan, introduced by President Barack Obama in 2015. The Clean Power Plan was aimed at reducing the US’s carbon emissions from power generation by 32% by 2030.

Cuts to the age pension, legislated in 2015, have begun. The main change is to the assets test taper rate.

For every additional $1000 in assets, pensioners now lose $78 a year (raised from $39). Previously, a homeowner couple with $1,178,000 in assets would have qualified for a part pension. This upper limit has dropped to $816,000. (These figures do not include the family home.)


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