Watching last night’s press conference with Clive Palmer and Al Gore on climate change was one of the more bizarre moments I’ve witnessed in Australian politics.
We won’t know exactly what Clive’s announcements mean for a little while yet. Based on past experience, what he said last night might not be his view tomorrow – he likes to be a ‘man of mystery’ after all. This is what we think his latest speech means for climate politics in Australia.
1. Palmer United Party will vote to abolish the carbon tax
This is not a good thing. It would make Australia the first country in the world actually get rid of a price on carbon. It’s been proven to work at reducing emissions, so it makes no sense to scrap it now.
This part of his announcement is a step backwards for tackling climate change.
2. Palmer will vote down changes to the Renewable Energy Target, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Change Authority
While it’s great to hear Palmer attack Abbott’s plans to completely dismantle Australia’s clean energy laws, the devil is in the detail. He only promised to protect the Renewable Energy Target (RET) until the 2016 election.
This is not good enough. The RET needs to be guaranteed until 2030 to give clean energy investors and developers the confidence to take part. What’s more, Palmer has a history of breaking his word when it comes to renewables. In fact, his infamous U-turn during the WA Election Campaign saw him contradict one of his own candidates over making the RET mandatory.
Nevertheless, target is still under threat. The Abbott Government is currently conducting a ‘review’. This could be a pretext to scrapping it, particularly given they gave the job of running the review to a climate sceptic.
Meanwhile, the lobbyists for ‘The Dirty Three’ energy companies – Origin Energy, AGL and Energy Australia – continue lobbying politicians to tear up the RET. They’re doing all they can to create uncertainty about its future, which kills off investment and makes the target harder to achieve.
This part of Clive’s announcement is a step forward. It’s still crucial to keep the pressure on our politicians, especially Palmer, to keep their hands off the RET for good.
3. Palmer won’t support the Direct Action climate plan
He called it a “a waste of money”. He said he’ll instead introduce an Emissions Trading Scheme with a zero price on carbon while waiting for other countries to take action. But – and here’s the catch – he’ll attach this as an amendment to the bill to repeal the Climate Change Authority, which he has said he will vote down.
The bill will no doubt be defeated in the Senate. It seems likely the government will not proceed with it and this trading scheme will not proceed.
This is not good enough. While politicians tinker with policy mechanisms, the planet gets hotter. Australia needs a credible climate policy right now.
The Direct Action Plan wasn’t good enough, and neither are Palmer’s plans. Australia is the most vulnerable developed country to the impacts of climate change, so sitting by and waiting for others to act is simply not in the national interest.
4. What he should have said
What Palmer didn’t say last night is that he is still pushing ahead to develop a mega coal mine in the Galilee Basin in Queensland. Building the port to export Clive’s coal will involve dredging and dumping in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, and the coal will be exported through the Great Barrier Reef.
If this mine gets built, it will also make other mega-mines in the Galilee more likely to go ahead. Australia’s coal exports are the country’s biggest contribution to climate change. It doesn’t make any sense for Palmer to make these announcements about climate change while actively making the problem worse.
If Clive Palmer truly meant what he said last night about climate change, then he’d scrap his plans to build a giant coal mine.