Australia starves green fund, denting climate credibility

The budget for Canberra’s main climate policy is set to run out this year, leaving emissions to rise

A bush fire in Western Australia (Flickr/Shek Graham)

A bush fire in Western Australia (Flickr/Shek Graham)

By Megan Darby

Australia is choking off support for its main climate policy, casting doubt on Canberra’s green commitment.

There are no plans to extend the A$2.55 billion (US$1.8bn) Emissions Reduction Fund after it runs out, expected to happen later this year.

Finance minister Mathias Cormann told the Australian newspaper future budgets could support the scheme – which offers incentives for businesses to invest in energy efficiency.

The government will review its green arsenal in 2017, potentially introducing new policies by 2018/19. Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions are forecast to grow.

Official data published in December shows emissions rose 1.3% in the 2014-15 financial year – the first increase in a decade.

Analysts at RepuTex predict 6% annual growth to the end of the decade, with no peak in sight before 2030.

Driven by land clearance, brown coal burning and LNG production, the trend is at odds with global goals to curb warming.

“Australia’s growing emissions could become either an Achilles heel for the government, or a catalyst for action,” said Hugh Grossman, director of the research firm.

Report: Australia approves coal port expansion despite 1.5C support

At a UN summit in Paris last month, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull backed calls for a reference to 1.5C in a global climate deal. That is the limit vulnerable countries like Australia’s neighbouring Marshall Islands say is essential for their survival. It was adopted as an aspirational goal, with 195 countries agreeing to hold temperature rise “well below 2C”.

It was the clearest sign of support for the climate agenda since Turnbull ousted sceptic predecessor Tony Abbott in a dramatic party vote last September.

But policies to back it up have yet to materialise. Canberra’s national contribution to the UN pact, a 26-28% emissions cut on 2005 levels by 2030, was branded “weak” by climate advocates. Nor was the country on track to meet it, researchers at Climate Action Tracker said.

The scrapping of a carbon tax by Turnbull’s predecessor Tony Abbott in 2014 did lasting damage to Australia’s credibility, according to a report from London’s Grantham Institute on Monday.

In these circumstances, the recent bounce in emissions was “hardly surprising,” said Green senator Larissa Waters.

“Even the Liberal Government must realise what a joke their policy is, since they haven’t budgeted long-term funding, leaving Australia without any global warming policy at all.”

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