Has The Climate Institute damaged their brand by announcing a “historic alliance” with the World Wildlife Fund, The Coal Association and the CFMEU?

The original founder of The Climate Institute, Clive Hamilton, who left the board three months ago, told Crikey that he was surprised by the collaboration, and “for the Climate Institute to team up with the greenhouse mafia is a very bad look.”

Established in late 2005, and funded by a donation from the Poola Foundation (Tom Kantor Fund), The Climate Institute, describing themselves as a “non-partisan independent group”  state on their website that they’re working towards a  “five-year goal of raising public awareness and debate about the dangers to Australia of global warming and to motivate the country to take positive action.”

Which is why this announcement on Monday raised a few eyebrows:

The new taskforce, proposed by the Australian Coal Association (ACA), CFMEU, The Climate Institute (CI), and WWF, would be charged with developing and implementing a nationally coordinated plan to oversee rapid demonstration and commercialisation of 10,000 GWh of carbon capture and storage (CCS) electricity per year by 2020.

But CEO of the Climate Institute John Connor told Crikey he stands by the decision to form a coalition with an industry body for the first time since the group’s inception.

“To some extent we’ve decided to expend some political capital to move the debate on,” says Connor. “… We’ve gone into this because we don’t want the hope or promise of carbon capture and storage hanging around this debate like a bad smell for too long. So this was an opportunity to clear the air, set some targets and set some timetables.

“I actually think it was courageous from the coal association and the CFMEU to sign on to a document with targets which require commercialisation of 10,000 GWh per year by 2020,” says Connor. “And bear that in mind in context of the extra 45,000 GWh that will be brought on by the renewable energy targets….”

But Hamilton told Crikey he believes the alliance “may compromise the perception of the independence of The Climate Institute.”

“The coal industry has a shameful history of climate change denial and obstruction of abatement efforts … I find it hard to understand why an organisation committed to fighting climate change would give enhanced respectability to the coal lobby,” says Hamilton.

Connor argues that advocacy is about taking different approaches. “I understand this is challenging for some and disappointing for some … but we’ll continue to provide independent commentary and analysis.”

“We don’t think we’ve got the time just to be engaged in trench warfare,” says Connor. “What’s clear from both associations is that they understand that their future is a low or near zero emissions future. I think whilst there’s a range of vested interests here, coal has moved on from its blanket opposition to the science.”

Connor told Crikey that coalitions like the Australian Business Roundtable on Climate Change can work effectively to promote change.

“Advocacy is not just about pushing people in the back. It’s about clearing a pathway for action,” says Connor. “It’s part of good advocacy in our view to create partnerships, to clear the pathway to urgent action on climate change … We’re not saying that people should ease up on the coal industry, or any other polluting industry.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey