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Federal

May 19, 2011

Hunt's climate policy just blew out 30%

With exquisite timing, while Malcolm Turnbull was criticising the Coalition's climate policy, Greg Hunt was confirming his warnings about its budget impact.

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Is there a more discredited policy on either side of politics at the moment than the Coalition’s “direct action” climate-change policy? The inability of Tony Abbott and Greg Hunt to find any independent experts who take the policy seriously — and the embarrassed responses of experts who’ve been verballed by them — has been the subject of a series of cruel articles in the Fairfax press in recent months.

Last night on the ABC, Malcolm Turnbull, with only a little encouragement from his interlocutor, gave the policy a huge serve that, like his demolition job on the policy in his crossing-the-floor speech at the beginning of 2010, was far more effective than anything Labor has been able to come up with. In particular, Turnbull’s line that the policy was seen as having the virtue of being easily abandoned if climate change turned out not to be real, nailed Tony Abbott’s climate denialism — though of course, there has never been any doubt what  Hunt believes in — he believes in his own career.

But Turnbull’s observation that the policy would “become a very expensive charge on the budget in the years ahead” was very well-timed, because Hunt yesterday casually announced a 30% blow-out in the cost of his own policy.

Speaking to the ABC, Hunt repeatedly said that the Coalition’s policy was based on an average emissions price of $15 a tonne of abated emissions.

Fortunately, we can check that against the actual policy and its costings, released on February 2 last year, which included a breakdown of how the Coalition was going to achieve the bipartisan goal of a 5% reduction in emissions by 2020. The policy contains a table with broad-brush costings of abated emissions. There’s the cheap abatement, from soil magic, said to cost just $8-$10 a tonne (independent experts on biosequestration say that, given the right improvements in measurement, $20-$40 a tonne is a valid estimate, but we’ll leave that for the moment), and the more expensive abatement in areas such as paying coal-fired power stations to reduce their emissions.

Using those numbers, under the Coalition’s minimum reduction scenario, the average price of abatement will cost taxpayers $11.44 per tonne. Under the maximum reduction scenario, it will cost taxpayers $11.21 per tonne. That’s the basis for the Coalition’s $1.2 billion per annum Emissions Reduction Fund.

Yesterday, Hunt changed all that and said the average price would be $15 a tonne. That’s slightly more, though still not very, realistic, particularly if you cost his soil magic proposals at the levels independent experts say are plausible. In any event, it’s a blowout of about 30% in his basic costing.

So either the Coalition has to find another $300-400 million a year to achieve the same level of emissions reduction — bearing in mind they’re pretending “Direct Action” can achieve a 5% reduction target — or they’re now shooting for a lower target. Which is it? We asked Hunt’s office, but they’re still not speaking to us.

It’s possible that Hunt’s new $15 figure reflects an acknowledgement that his soil magic numbers are grossly understated. He told Crikey last year that the process for selecting abatement projects would be based on lowest cost, meaning it not necessarily depend as heavily on soil magic as the original policy, which depends on burying carbon for 60% of its carbon reductions. But who knows? It’s time the Coalition stopped messing about with this rubbish and acknowledged Turnbull’s essential point, that at the moment it isn’t interested in doing anything about climate change.

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33 comments

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33 thoughts on “Hunt’s climate policy just blew out 30%

  1. mattholden

    Yes, your last paragraph nails it – what the Coalition needs to do is acknowledge that its real policy is to ignore climate change, do nothing, pretend climate change doesn’t exist and hope it will go away. Then we can have a proper debate.

  2. Holden Back

    Call me weird but I feel sorry for Hunt. He’s been talking about emissions trading for a long while, and I suspect doesn’t believe in this current Liberal policy one bit.

  3. Pete from Sydney

    just occasionally the Libs do something to admire, and largely it’s either Hockey or Turnbull, this time it’s Turnbull….hopefully Gillard and co can pick this up and get some mileage out of it

  4. klewso

    Since when does a “non-core promise” have to be taken “seriously” – there’s votes hanging off this?
    As for Hunt, he chose this company, and sticks to it!

  5. Johnfromplanetearth

    The last paragraph does nail it, we shouldn’t do anything we can’t do anything about! That big yellow ball in the sky isn’t going anywhere and that is the one thing that determines all life on this beautiful blue ball floating about in this very dangerous universe. We are a speck of dust that can be flicked off the shoulders of mother nature when ever she feels like getting rid of us, what a con job it all is and if anyone listens to that old sourpuss Turnbull then i am convinced you believe in fairies!

  6. Jimmy

    Not a good day for Tony, the UK announcing substantial cuts, putting another bullet in his “why should we move before the rest of the world” line, Malcolm say the policy won’t work and Hunt announces an increase in costs. Now let’s just hope the govt can actually use this.

  7. Son of foro

    Should I hold my breath waiting the genius economist Terry McCrann to get stuck into this? Perhaps world-renowned climate scientist Andrew Bolt will continue his fearless hunt for the truth with a scathing attack?

  8. Penelope

    Spot on Bernard! Great this point is being mooted. I suppose that were Abbott to win the next election he too would give up tackling climate change, drop the commitment to the 5% reductions, and call the idea “aspirational” only, and “a gimmick”.

  9. Acidic Muse

    I suspect what will be much harder for the Toorak Taliban to explain is why conservative UK prime minister David Cameron has just come out in support of a 50% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 whilst they’re only there is still trying to pretend that the science is not conclusive.

    The answer is obvious of course.

    David Cameron is a real conservative who actually cares about the legacy of his generation will be leaving for future ones.

    Oh, and he’s not the personal political pitt bull of a small cadre of mining barons and other neo-feudal overlords whose wealth is almost totally dependent upon fossil fuel intensive industries – and he couldn’t give a shit about future generations because the billions they leave to their own children will ensure the perpetuation of their own DNA – even if that plays out with their descendants living inside a heavily fortified eco bubble

    Still, I sense we draw ever closer to the moment when that pungent whiff of fascism that hath hung like the stench of rotting corpses over this country for more than decade now could very well begin to smell like the death knell of Toxic Tony’s fading dreams of absolute power

  10. Acidic Muse

    Ooops… Dragon Naturally Speaking just had an embolism..Moderator please delete my above post

    I suspect what will be much harder for the Toorak Taliban to explain is why conservative UK prime minister David Cameron has just come out in support of a 50% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 whilst their own fearless leader Toxic Tony is still trying to pretend that the science is not conclusive.

    The answer is obvious of course.

    David Cameron is a real conservative who actually cares about the legacy of his generation will be leaving for future ones.

    Oh, and he’s not the personal political pitt bull of a small cadre of mining barons and other neo-feudal overlords whose wealth is almost totally dependent upon fossil fuel intensive industries – and he couldn’t give a shit about future generations because the billions they leave to their own children will ensure the perpetuation of their own DNA – even if that plays out with their descendants living inside a heavily fortified eco bubble

    Still, I sense we draw ever closer to the moment when that pungent whiff of fascism that hath hung like the stench of rotting corpses over this country for more than decade now could very well begin to smell like the death knell of Toxic Tony’s fading dreams of absolute power

  11. michael r james

    Cross-Post from today’s editorial:

    [(crikey.com.au/2011/05/19/crikey-says-turnbull-libs-feeling-the-cold/#comment-136929)
    MICHAEL R JAMES Posted Thursday, 19 May 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    ………….
    In any case, in the interview one could see that he was initially attempting to avoid the question, batting it off to Greg Hunt (I could read the thought bubble: “Let Hunt deal with this sh*t since he is smarming up to Abbott”). But I think it was partly ego with a dash of “to hell with it, the Lib neanderthals eventually have to haul themselves out of denial.”
    …………
    Grattan is correct that he is still alienating the neanderthals in his party but, unlike them , he is not interested in serving an Abbott government (they would probably try to give him Indigenous Affairs) and no one thinks everyone is happy with Abbott’s approach. He knows that the tide has to turn, and if it doesn’t and an Abbott miracle happens, he is outta there anyway.]

  12. CML

    @ ACIDIC MUSE – Totally agree with you. And I particularly like your last paragraph – says it all really. I just hope your predictions are correct.

  13. Frank Campbell

    Turnbull looked tired and drawn. Like Napoleon on Elba, the loser dreams of one last crack at the enemy. In this case Abbott. Abbott has dragged the Liberals from oblivion to the cusp of power in 18 months.

    Turnbull knows he is running out of time. If Abbott wins, Turnbull will have to play Hillary to Abbott’s Obama. At best.

    By back-stabbing Abbott on “climate” policy, Turnbull is gambling that the mass of voters who are wavering on anthropogenic global warming will tip the polls. No accident he chose to strike promptly after Cameron’s (vague) commitment to speed up Britain’s deindustrialisation by splurging on idiotic wind turbines, unproven carbon storage etc.

    This is Turnbull’s last hurrah. Will the Maquariewanker kill off the simian priest?

    Remember that Elba led straight to Waterloo.

    Beware of little men with big heads.

  14. davidk

    let’s just hope the govt can actually use this.
    going by its’ efforts to date we’d best not hold our breath waiting for the gov’t to kick a goal. Why have we heard no mention of the EU’s proposal to charge quantas a special levy because it operates out of a country with no price on carbon?

  15. klewso

    But the UK doesn’t have a coal (producers/royalties) habit to support.

  16. John

    Tony Abbott’s climate change policy:
    No wanking = no emissions.

    So stop being a wanker, Tony.

  17. Acidic Muse

    @DavidK

    We have Karl Bitar, Mark Arbib et al to thank for the dearth of brilliant strategists and great communicators within the ALP machine at this bleak moment in history.

    In order to protect the fiefdoms of those now infamous factional warlords, anyone with any real talent who wouldn’t swear fealty to them was either forced into exile or metaphorically burnt at the stake. Until the ALP accepts greater pluralism and the genuine meritocracy of ideas that flow from it will not only strengthen the party from within, but propel it’s political success in the public discourse, it will doubtless continue to struggle in attracting bright people into the fold.

    Anyone who saw Felicity Hampel comprehensively out perform Bill Shorten in selling Labours platform on Q&A the other night knows exactly what I’m talking about.
    Anyone who saw Felicity Hampel comprehensively out perform Bill Shorten in selling Labours platform on Q&A the other night knows exactly what I’m talking about.

  18. davidk

    @ acidic muse
    I agree completely, their strategic brilliance and superior communication skills were there for all to see during the last election campaign.The dominance of the right faction is a curse. Rodney Cavalier has told us the left faction fell at the same time as the Berlin wall. This inevitably leads any progressives straight into the arms of the greens. That may suit the right but it shits me. It leads to policy stagnation.re judge Hampel, what a clear and passionate advocate for rationality she was. I wish I’d been equally impressed with Bill but he fell well shorten.

  19. John64

    Malcolm Turnbull […] gave the policy a huge serve that […] was far more effective than anything Labor has been able to come up with.

    Labor’s problem in a nutshell. They can’t sell what they /are/ doing (We’re building an NBN so that we can erm… Connect your dishwasher to the internet!) and they can’t effectively attack the Liberals. Every line they’ve delivered has either been an own-goal or shot themselves in the foot. EG: “No off-shore detention in Nauru because they haven’t signed up with the UN… so we’ll choose Malaysia (who also hasn’t signed up) and do a 5 for 1 swap instead!”

    Me thinks Gillard’s office is too caught up in the Twitter-sphere and haven’t figured out that good policy is all about the long-term. It’s not about what happens today, it’s about how that policy plays 2 or 3 years from now. They have that in some respects with the NBN but God is it a pain watching them trying to sell it.

  20. klewso

    Some people don’t think we have a “Tea Party” in this country, so what do we have?
    The “Crack Party” led by a “G-string politician (“trained in-house”) – who’ll go anywhere he can smell a vote”?

  21. freecountry

    Mr Keane, I object to your constant use of the dog-whistle expression “soil magic”.

    Many times I have provided links to information from the CSIRO, Tim Flannery’s Wentworth Group, and other credible sources, showing that the harmful amount of carbon in Earth’s atmosphere, potentially complements a harmful deficit of carbon in Earth’s arable soils, not only in Australia but also across much of Africa and the rest of the world. If carbon can be transferred from the atmosphere to the soils–and there is strong evidence that a great deal of it can be–it can be turned into natural soil life, microbes, plants, and food for the world’s population.

    Of course, one of the best ways of doing this would be an international ETS, a cost effective means of measuring soil sequestration, and a lot more research on how to do it in specific soil conditions.

    For you to keep on scoffing at this as “soil magic” is wilfully ignorant, and I suspect, motivated by the fact that a Liberal, Malcolm Turnbull, was the first Australian politician to advocate it, at a time when Labor and the Greens (as well as the Nationals at one stage) were all opposing the idea for reasons of their own.

  22. Jimmy

    Free – Completely agree that carbon can be stored in the soil and “soil magic” is a ridiculous term but I think the Libs have caused some of the problem with the level of carbon they are claiming can be stored, many many times the amount the CSIRO predicts.

  23. freecountry

    Greg Hunt made some fantastical quantitative claims using dodgy figures that he was then forced to correct. This happened quite recently, long after Mr Keane made a habit of repeating Lenore Tayloy’s “soil magic” phrase every chance he got. One dodgy claim does not invalidate the original proposal, which is scientifically very solid.

  24. Jimmy

    Free below is a transcript from Lateline on the 31st of March, as you can see even after Hunt altered his figure he is still way off. Given that “soil magic” accounts for 60% of the coalition carbon reduction plans I think that it is more than just one dodgy claim.

    STEVE CANNANE: Greg Hunt has altered the transcript of the original Lateline interview and posted it on his website to reflect what he says was his intended definition of 100 square kilometres. (This was 100km x 100km instead of 10 X 10)

    Based on this altered figure, Greg Hunt believes 150 million tonnes of carbon dioxide can be abated in one year over one million hectares.

    But using the CSIRO’s best estimate, you’d need a land mass of at least 75 million hectares to do this. And if you take the CSIRO’s figures at the lower end of the scale, then you’d need 500 million hectares, or 65 per cent of the land mass of Australia.

    But Greg Hunt questions the CSIRO figures.

  25. Acidic Muse

    @Free Country

    Bernard’s use of soil magic is perfectly valid given biosequestration according to any credible expert will cost in excess of $30 a ton.

    Biosequestration may in fact become viable once we finally have a price on carbon but for Hunt to be arguing it as a solution without first putting a price on carbon – meaning the tax payer has to foot the bill for it out of Toxic Tony’s dire-erection plan – instead of making the big polluters pay for it themselves – is patently fracking absurd

    Sometimes I think you must dwell inside a reality vacuum in some parallel universe

    All measures to cut green house gas emissions cost money – the argument here is about who pays.

    Whether you like it or not, no matter how much piss and wind the Right emits on this issue, in the end the public will come down on the side of common sense – realising we all have to pay something but given it’s big emitters who profit most from creating the problem, they are the ones who will have to do the most and pay the most to fix it

    Malcolm Turnball is already moving to place the knife fairly and squarely across Toxic Tony’s throat because he clearly sees the tide of this debate is about to turn BIGTIME.

    The Toorak Taliban always knew that if they couldn’t force an election on this before the legislation went through and people got to see the sky actually wasn’t going to cave in after all, it was going to become a political dead duck for them

    Frankly it’s about time a few more on the Right took their heads out of the sand piling up around the mining barons bungholes – lol – David Cameron certainly has and no amount of Murdoch spin is going to hide that incoming tide
    All measures to cut green house gas emissions cost money – the argument here is about who pays.

    Whether you like it or not, no matter how much piss and wind the Right emits on this issue, in the end the public will come down on the side of common sense – realising we all have to pay something but given it’s big emitters who profit most from creating the problem, they are the ones who will have to do the most and pay the most to fix it

    Malcolm Turball is already moving to place the knife fairly and squarely across Toxic Tony’s throat because he clearly sees the tide of this debate is about to turn BIGTIME.

    The Toorak Taliban always knew that if they couldn’t force anelection on this before the legislation went through and people got to see the sky actually wasn’t going to cave in after all, it was going to become a political dead duck

    Frankly it’s about time a few more on the Right took their heads out of the sand piling up around the mining barons bungholes – lol – David Cameron certainly has and no amount of Murdoch spin is going to hide that incoming tide

  26. Jimmy

    And that 60% is up to 85 million tonnes in the year 2020 which the CSIRO estimates would use between 42.5 million hectares and 283 million hectares (or 36.83% of Australia’s land mass)

  27. Rich Uncle Skeleton

    Come election time Labor will have a carbon tax and compensation scheme up and running.

    The Liberals will have a costly and fraudulent “direct action” plan based on magic dirt for a problem they don’t really believe is happening anyway, despite the fact the majority of the electorate do (obsessed right-wingers like Frank Campbell not withstanding).

    Make your own minds up on this one.

  28. freecountry

    Acidic Muse:
    [… biosequestration according to any credible expert will cost in excess of $30 a ton.]
    Not in net terms if it lives up to its predicted potential to greatly increase agricultural yields in some soils, in addition to other advantages of reversing aridification, etc. In some places a positive feedback process can be induced to bring about “terra preta”, which is highly fertile while tending to increase its biomass content.

    They say you can’t eat money, but in a sense you can eat coal, if you do something intelligent with its emissions. The human race is getting hungrier even as it turns its food bowls into salt pans and carparks. The “Arab Spring”, which analyst say was triggered by soaring food prices, is an early sign that food grains are on the way to becoming the new oil.

  29. Acidic Muse

    @Free Country

    At this time that technology is just pie in the sky and you know it- we’re a good 20 years away from it “becoming” being a model for biosequestration on any kind of scale that will make a serious dent in green house gas emissions.

    Right now it’s just another dis-informational spanner the Right is seeking to throw into the clean green energy machines inexorable drive to reality

    I’m in full agreement with you on the issue of food security but again the major variable driving up grain prices right now is the fossil fuel lobby’s rapacious lust to use ethanol to supplement our global oil addition

    Green energy is the only answer and our fastest path to it is to putting a price on carbon and allow market forces to drive the innovation we need

  30. Barry 09

    So , have i got “Magic soil” in my backyard ?? and how do i collect the carbon falling from the sky. In the large cities in China , you get to take some home with you , after a walk.

  31. freecountry

    I’m calling you on this, Mr Keane. 30 years ago the Greens called it “natural farming”. The primary producers thought phosphate fertilizer was still the go. If you followed the rural news you would know more and more farmers are turning to natural alternative methods for renovating their soil and getting a turnaround in yields and profits.

    But the world has moved on. Natural soil management–which, when successful, just happens to sequester a lot of carbon as a side effect of making farms more fertile and more sustainable–has finally captured the interest of the Nationals (for self-serving political reasons of course, but that’s politics). That puts it offside to the Greens and the whole carbon-pricing camp. So all of a sudden what was once natural and sustainable has become “soil magic” as if it were dodgy science. And you’re a journalist so people believe you. Pretty cynical if you ask me.

  32. freecountry

    Barry09, all living plants on Earth collect carbon from the sky, as you would know if you had paid attention in third grade. When those plants die, bacteria and other organisms in the soil collect the carbon from them.

    Even an idiot can sound clever by bandying around phrases like “soil magic”. Even I can do it, I’ll show you how easy it is: sun magic, wind magic, tide magic, earth magic, carbon derivative market magic. None of them proven to reduce emissions on any significant scale, by the way; the only magic that has done that so far is the one a third grader cannot explain: nuclear magic.

    I find it surreal the way progressives wear one cap to claim that market economics are dead after the GFC and only a centrally planned project can solve broadband problems. Then they put on another cap–a market fundamentalist cap–to claim that only the market can be of any use for emission reduction; planned initiatives for energy and transport infrastructure and soil management have no role to play in capturing the low-hanging fruit.

    Perhaps we should call this paradox “ideology magic”.

  33. Jimmy

    Free – Who said a market based carbon trading scheme and “soil magic” are mutually exclusive? Do you think farmers are going to change their methods for free? Doesn’t the ALP’s proposed plan include Agriculture for storing Carbon but it is in addition to the 5% target?

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