Phil Gaetjens, the Liberal staffer appointed head of Treasury, has undoubtedly had a busy couple of months getting his feet under the desk since replacing John Fraser. Too busy, as he acknowledged at Senate estimates on Wednesday, to read the recent IPCC climate report, which sounded an urgent alarm about the need to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees in order to reduce the risk of major economic, environmental and population impacts.

“I have had, in the two and a bit months I have been there, lots of things to look at, and unfortunately that’s one I haven’t got to,” Gaetjens told Greens Senator Larissa Waters. That’s understandable, but one would assume Treasury had examined the report and perhaps even done some thinking about the economic impacts of climate change, given the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef and the drought claimed to be gripping east-coast agriculture. “What is the differing economic impact on Australia of a 1.5C in global temperatures versus a two degree rise in global temperatures?” Waters asked, drawing on one of the key issues in the IPCC report. 

The question left Gaetjens and his team floundering. “We do not do modelling on that… can I perhaps take than on notice? There wouldn’t be any information in a quantitative sense that I could provide at the moment.” “Do you not think that climate change has an economic impact?” Waters asked. “It does,” Gaetjens replied. “But as I say we have not done the modelling on that so I just can’t give you quantitative answers or one that is driven from a large piece of Treasury work that I am aware of.”

It’s peculiar enough that Treasury had not thought to provide its leadership team with an estimates brief on climate change, especially given a new IPCC report. But it’s somewhat more serious that Treasury, while acknowledging the economic impacts of climate change, doesn’t bother to undertake any work on the nature of those impacts. To the extent that they might impact short-term economic forecasts, Gaetjens’ team explained to Waters, they assume that other agencies — like the Bureau of Meteorology or ABARES, the agriculture and resource economic gurus — factor it into the material they provide to Treasury. 

So as it stands, Treasury doesn’t have any view on the extent to which future economic growth, employment, productivity, tax revenue, investment or population growth and distribution will be affected by climate change, beyond acknowledging that they’ll be affected. Rather appropriate given the government literally has no climate policy.

Get more Crikey, for less

It’s more than a newsletter. It’s where readers expect more – fearless journalism from a truly independent perspective. We don’t pander to anyone’s party biases. We question everything, explore the uncomfortable and dig deeper.

Join us this week for 50% off a year of Crikey.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
50% off