Climate Integrity is on the line | Between the Lines

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The Wrap with Richard Denniss

Well, it only took 8 years, but the parliament is now finally debating the need to stop building new fossil fuel projects.

Back in 2015 when we launched our call for a global moratorium on new coal mines it was, shall we say, outside of the parameters of polite political debate in Australia. But the role of a think tank is to shift ideas from seeming radical to seeming reasonable and as the current debate about the Government’s Safeguard Mechanism shows, it’s not easy for those who support the construction of new gas and coal mines to make a scientific or economic case for their necessity.
For decades the Australian climate debate has been defined by the denial of those who want no action and the political pragmatists who take whatever is on offer. For those of us in the sensible centre — where the scientific advice from the UNFCC, the energy advice from the International Energy Agency and the economic advice from the Stern Review still carry weight — it will be a frustrating few weeks.

But, as always, our role is to rely on the research to push for the best policy the parliament can pass. I don’t know what is politically pragmatic, but I do know what the science says is necessary and the economics says is possible. No matter how sensible it might seem to some, there is no scientific or economic reason to keep building the things that are causing the problem that the Safeguard Mechanism is trying to fix.

Last week was a huge week for integrity in climate policy.

An explosive Four Corners investigation revealed commercial logging occurring in vast areas of PNG rainforest that companies claimed to be protecting as part of carbon credit projects. Those credits are being sold to Australian businesses to offset their emissions and as our Climate & Energy Director Polly Hemming told Four Corners,

“I guarantee what you saw on the ground in PNG is being replicated globally and if there is a proliferation of fraudulent carbon credits circulating in these rapidly growing markets, the risk is that carbon markets are actually driving the catastrophic climate change that we’re seeing now.”

The Environmental Defenders Office filed a complaint on behalf of the Australia Institute to the ACCC, about the Federal Government’s carbon neutral certification scheme, Climate Active, on the basis that it may be misleading and deceptive under consumer law. Fossil fuel companies and energy retailers AGL, Energy Australia, Ampol, Origin Energy are all certified as ‘carbon neutral’ by Climate Active.

Professor Allan Fels, the former Chair of the ACCC, who also spoke at our Climate Integrity Summit, said on Sky News “There’s a fair chance [the Australia Institute] will be successful.”

We’ll keep you updated as the ACCC makes their assessment, watch this space!

We held our Climate Integrity Summit 2023 at Parliament House, featuring leading experts in economics, ecology, policy and governance, along with key parliamentarians and journalists. You can read the speeches and watch the panels here. Speakers outlined key concerns about integrity in climate policy and governance.

Polly Hemming delivers her address to the Climate Integrity Summit 2023.

Warranting a special mention is Kieran Pender who announced that the Human Rights Law Centre will be launching a project to protect & empower whistleblowers.

“We’ll give them pro bono legal advice to help them speak up, as safely & lawfully as possible, with a focus on climate & environment.”

If you’ve got something to report, their website might be worth a visit.

On the day of the Summit, Twiggy Forrest didn’t hold back in delivering his assessment of the Greens’ offer to back the Albanese Government’s proposed safeguard mechanism reforms – but only if Labor agrees to stop opening new coal and gas mines.

“People who do not understand the grave risk of climate change should not be in any position of influence,” Forrest said, backing no new gas and coal. “If they don’t believe the science then they can just fuck off.”

For a depressing yet hilarious summary of the flaws with Labor’s key climate policy, check out TheJuiceMedia’s latest Honest Government Ad (which references some of our research).

TheJuiceMedia’s Honest Government Ad on the Safeguard Mechanism

I’m an economist, so I can tell you that every million dollars Australia spends on offsets is a million dollars that we didn’t spend on something useful. The fact that we’re spending money on low integrity offsets rather than decarbonisation is about the most economically inefficient thing I can think of. Rather than investing in renewable energy or electric buses or First Nations-led, community owned renewable energy projects, we’re spending money helping to companies to greenwash their pollution. But to be clear, this is a choice.

And it’s a choice that will soon be before the Senate.

— Richard Denniss, Executive Director of the Australia Institute

The Big Stories

The Life Expectancy Gap in Regional Australia

People in Far West NSW are dying earlier than they should, from avoidable causes, and while suicide rates have steadied in Sydney, they are on the rise in the most remote parts of the state.

Our new report ‘The Unlucky Country’ compared health outcomes for people in the Far West of NSW to Sydney residents and found serious and growing inequity.

Report author Kate McBride discussed the findings on Sky News.

Do We Really Need AUKUS?

And, if we really want it, how do we get our dream submarine?

The 2021 AUKUS announcement came with the promise of a sovereign Australian fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. Nearly 18 months on, however, it remains unclear if these submarines will ever be delivered—or if Australia actually needs them. Report from Allan Behm.

For some more commentary on the catastrophe that a war involving China would be for Australia (and everyone), check out these two insightful articles that refer extensively to the work of the Australia Institute’s International & Security Affairs Program.

The Defence Strategic Review is landing amid a sea of concerning questions about Australia’s submarine plans Laura Tingle

What would war with China look like for Australia? — John Lyons

Climate Integrity Summit Wrap Up

“Australia’s biggest polluters have set net zero targets while telling shareholders their fossil fuel production is increasing. We have been given the exhausting and impossible task of deciphering whether the claims made by industry, banks and governments are consistent with their actions. Climate integrity is the antidote to Australia’s state-sponsored greenwash.”said Polly Hemming, Climate & Energy Program Director at the Australia Institute, in her address to the Climate Integrity Summit.

Polly Hemming at the Climate Integrity Summit.

Read or watch all the speeches and panels from the Climate Integrity Summit here.

The Quote

“My son is 7 years old. He knows that the two fundamental things that need to happen to address climate change are to ‘stop burning fossil fuels’ and to ‘stop breaking habitats’,”

“If I asked my son how to save trees his response would not be “Mum, what about creating a complex market-based mechanism based on an unprovable counterfactual”.”

“So much is hidden in complexity. I am not saying good climate policy is easy, but it is simple. We need to stop doing the harmful things and we need to invest in the good things.”

— Polly Hemming in her address to the Climate Integrity Summit, outlining the principles of climate integrity.

The Win

Jim Chalmers had declared that he wants to “end the super wars” in a speech on Monday, in a move the Guardian reports will fuel speculation about a future budget crackdown on tax concessions at the top end.

This follows Australia Institute research that showed the massive cost to the Budget of superannuation tax concessions, higher than the NDIS and on par with the aged pension.

The current super system is not taking pressure off the budget to provide a dignified retirement for all Australians, but it certainly is providing a lucrative tax avoidance facility for multimillionaires.

The South Australian Government scrapped the former Government’s Electric Vehicles Tax, something the Australia Institute has long advocated for.

“The SA Government should be congratulated for taking a leading role on EV policy and being the first jurisdiction to repeal this backwards tax on zero emissions cars” said Noah Schultz-Byard, SA Director at The Australia Institute.

The decision to repeal the tax has come at a key moment for electric vehicles in South Australia, as Australia Institute research shows their popularity is increasing across the state and the political spectrum.

The Bin

“We said at this point in time, we don’t think that the referendum is on track for success,”

Peter Dutton warns Voice to Parliament campaign that it is on course to fail.

Get Involved

Support our new Coal Mine Tracker

The Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has rejected Clive Palmer’s proposed new coal mine in Queensland. But there are 28 more new coal mines in the pipeline awaiting federal government approval.

Together these mines represent billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

To avoid dangerous climate change, there can be no new coal mines or expansions of existing mines.

The Australia Institute’s new Coal Mine Tracker will track each coal mine project awaiting federal approval in Australia, as well as its climate impact, so we can hold our leaders to account.

Can you support our Coal Mine Tracker research by chipping in $30, $50 or $100 today?

What’s On

Submarines and sovereign capablity

A ten-year gap between submarine projects would all but destroy Australia’s naval shipbuilding capability for the future, compromising Australia’s ability to build, operate and maintain its own submarine fleet.

Wednesday, 22 March (tomorrow!), 11am AEDT. Free, registration essential.

Nordic Talks: Pedalling Health – Healthy and sustainable cities in Denmark and Australia

This webinar, part of our special Nordic Talks webinar series, will explore how Australia could move closer to Danish cycle culture and healthier design of cities, to not only improve the health of the planet, but the people on it.

Wednesday, March 1 at 6:00 pm AEDT. Free, registration essential.

Thank you for supporting the Australia Institute. We’re excited to take on some massive issues this year and we couldn’t do it without supporters like you.

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