Mr Abbott’s climate-change policy and the coming election

The Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet, had a go at Tony Abbott’s climate-change policy earlier this month, but the Opposition Leader would not be drawn into battle. Inasmuch as I understand that policy, it dispenses with a carbon tax, but involves initiatives designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through planting trees, improving the fertility of soils and other ‘direct action’ strategies.

If reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the goal, then there is certainly nothing wrong with these mechanisms. Of course, if you think it’s not nearly enough, you’ll want a carbon tax and another Kyoto, though it’s not at all clear that these mechanisms actually reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

A lot of AGW sceptics want Tony Abbott to use the election campaign to denounce the carbon tax and what they see as the whole AGW fantasy. Look, they say, even the head of the IPCC agrees that the planet hasn’t warmed for 17 years, we’re getting floods instead of the unending drought, winters are becoming more severe in the Northern Hemisphere — what more do you want? The time to speak plainly is now!

I don’t believe that he will do any such thing. Two national opinion polls in a row have the Coalition well ahead, and he himself ahead of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is meeting and greeting in Sydney’s western suburbs in the hope that she can turn sentiment around there. Her opponent is on top, and most of the work to put him there has been done by the Government itself. It is deeply unpopular, and while the carbon tax is part of that unpopularity, there are many other reasons for it as well, which I’ve discussed here on several occasions. There is no point at all in his advocating a policy that still has many opponents. His best plan, which he seems to be following, is to let the Government do all the work, and present himself as the patiently waiting future Prime Minister, able to bring back sense and stability into his suffering country.

Nor is there much point in his talking about how he will end the carbon tax when the Coalition is in power. First, there is always danger in presuming, when there are still more than six months to go. Second, even if the Coalition wins power in the House of Representatives it will not have a majority in the Senate, which is likely to reject any bill to end the tax. If he places that issue very high, then the only option for him is a double dissolution early in the life of the new Parliament.

I don’t think that talking about a double dissolution is a vote-winner. On my reading of the tea-leaves the electorate is fed up with the Gillard Government, and wants an end to it. I doubt that the carbon tax is central in its concerns, though winter energy bills will be going into letter-boxes around the time of the election, and their size won’t help the Government. ‘Climate change’ has been slipping steadily down the list of concerns for the electorate over the past five years, and the weather we have been experiencing (yes, I know that weather is not climate) is quite different to that predicted by the climate alarmists. For most people, in my opinion, ‘climate change’ is no longer really important.

For that reason I doubt that the Government will want to emphasise it either, in its later campaigning. Yes, there are stalwarts out there for whom this is the issue for all humanity. But the Greens represent their natural home. Labor’s western suburbs constituency is worried about making ends meet, housing prices and traffic chaos, not ‘climate change’.

If I am right, then you won’t hear much about the issue during the campaign. And that would be a pity, because ‘climate change’ has been such a central issue for the electorates in Western countries over the last decade. It reached its height when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the IPCC and Al Gore in 2007, and then appeared likely to prompt an international agreement about mitigation in the weeks leading up to the Copenhagen Conference of December 2009.

But the Copenhagen Conference was a flop, and Nature showed what it thought about warming by dumping a huge snowfall on the city. The issue never regained its momentum, and the Gillard Government’s passage of the carbon tax legislation was against the flow. Since then, carbon credits have become virtually unsaleable in Europe, which makes our tax, linked to the European system from 2015, look ineffectual. Solar and wind energy have lost their lustre and much of their subsidy, and there is mounting popular opposition to any more wind turbines.

All in all, this is not an issue that is likely to gain the Government any votes, and I expect it to receive the soft pedal in the month ahead. That will reduce the need for the Coalition to say anything much about it. And to repeat, that’s a pity, because we have never had a really thoroughgoing debate on it — and it’s such an interesting issue, in every way!

 

 

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Peter Lang says:

    Don,

    This is an excellent article. Balanced, sensible and politically exactly correct in
    my opinion. Thank you.

    I agree Abbott is doing an excellent job by saying as little as possible. The majority
    want the government to have PRAGMATIC policies to cut GHG emissions but they do
    not want policies that will damage the economy, increase energy prices or in
    anyway damage their own or their family’s finances, opportunities or well
    being. That is, the real vote winner is the economic consequences of the carbon
    tax and ETS and what will happen in the future. Arguing about the science of
    climate change at this time in the election cycle is a vote loser for the
    Coalition. Supporters of the Coalition for all the good reasons is undermined
    if some Coalition supporters can be painted as radical right
    extremists.

    I am not yet persuaded that planting trees is good policy. If this involves government picking winners it is not good policy. As to whether
    it is good politics or not, I doubt it. Politics needs to be targeted at the
    swing voters not the famers; they are already locked in Coalition
    supporters.

    People hate the carbon tax. Best politics (at this stage in the electoral cycle) is to
    leave climate change alone and focus on the economic impacts, especially the
    long term impacts for Australia, of carbon tax and ETS.

    Good politics is for the Coalition to say it will participate willingly in
    whatever all major emitters* agree to do, but we will not attempt to show the
    world how to do “it” by our example. We will not try to
    lead.

    [* All major emitters EU, USA, Russia, China, India, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Mexico and
    South Africa. They are responsible for 75% of GHG global emissions. When they
    sign up to a legally binding international agreement to control GHG emissions,
    that’s when Australia should reconsider its position.]
    Following are some thoughts on the Australian carbon tax and ETS

    Carbon pricing (taxes or ETS) is highly unlikely to succeed in
    the real world.

    Our ideologically Left government has implemented carbon
    pricing in
    Australia. This is bad policy. It will not survive, not just because the
    Coalition will repeal the legislation (rightly,
    IMO), but more importantly because the world
    is most unlikely to implement carbon pricing.
    Nor should it for many reasons.
    Here are two (of many):

    We have no idea of the
    ‘damage function’ (the net damages caused by warming). The damage function is highly uncertain (and
    probably exaggerated to the high side).
    Every time I ask about the damage function people prefer to talk about
    temperatures and climate sensitivity.
    They avoid talking about the damage function or they want to talk in
    emotive terms and cannot translate into costs and benefits.

    Global carbon pricing is
    most unlikely to be implemented. Policy
    makers know that unless a carbon pricing scheme is implemented globally the cost
    penalty to the participants would be huge.
    Everyone knows this so we’ll make lots of noises of support and do
    nothing. Nordhaus (2008), p198,
    http://nordhaus.econ.yale.edu/Balance_2nd_proofs.pdf says:

    “Complete
    participation is important because the cost function for abatement appears to be
    highly convex. We preliminarily estimate that a participation rate of 50 percent
    instead of 100 percent will impose a cost penalty on abatement of 250
    percent.”

    In other words, if only 50% of emissions are included in
    the carbon pricing scheme, the cost penalty for the participants would be 250%.
    The 50% participation could be achieved by, for example, 100% of countries
    participating in the scheme but only 50% of the emissions in total from within
    the countries are included, or 50% of countries participate and 100% of the
    emissions within those countries are included in the scheme (i.e. taxed or
    traded).

    What level of participation could realistically be
    achieved and what would be the compliance cost?
    Consider that the compliance cost would increase rapidly as we try to
    incorporate more and more sources.

    The assumptions that underpin the economic analyses used
    to justify carbon pricing are academic; they are appropriate for an academic
    exercise but they are unrealistic, impracticable and highly unlikely to be
    achieved in the real world. Here are
    some of the assumptions:

    • Negligible leakage (of emissions between
    countries)

    • All GHG emission sources are included (all countries
    and all GHG emissions in each country)

    • Negligible compliance cost

    • Negligible fraud

    • An optimal carbon price

    • The whole world implements the optimal carbon price in
    unison

    • The whole world acts in unison to increase the optimal
    carbon price periodically

    • The whole world continues to maintain the carbon price
    at the optimal level for all of this century (and thereafter).

    If these assumptions are not met, the estimated benefits
    of carbon pricing cannot be achieved.

    Do
    you know of an objective analysis of the probability that a legally binding
    international agreement (Treaty, Protocol, whatever) can be agreed, implemented
    and maintained (ramped up across all 195 countries in unison) for 100 years or
    until greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to a sustainable
    level?

  • donaitkin says:

    Peter,

    I think that your comment is longer than my original post! In answer to your question at the end, I don’t think you can have an objective analysis of the likelihood you set up. But in any caxse (and assuming yours is not a rhetorical question), my answer would be that it is spellbindingly small!

  • Malcolm Miller says:

    All will be quiet on this topic. Even Gillard will be low key, because she knows it’s no longer a winner and that people are sick of the years of AGW hype.

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