Australia snubs global climate summit in Warsaw

It is official: Australia’s new government denies global warming.  The Coalition Government will not send its environment minister to the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 19) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which will kick off  in Warsaw, Poland from 11-22 November 2013.

The National Stadium in Warsaw

Environment Minister Greg Hunt will stay at home to expedite the processes involved in repealing the carbon tax, a top election promise made by his big boss, Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

However, a representative on his behalf has been dispatched to take part in the annual event. Hunt will be busy repealing the carbon tax while the conference is underway. The carbon tax was passed by the Australian legislature in 2011 under former Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Since Abbott won the federal election in September this year, scrapping the carbon tax has topped his priority agenda.

Australia will be represented by Australia’s Climate Change Ambassador Justin Lee from the Department of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will also not attend.

The Coalition Government of Tony Abbott (center) is up to repeal the carbon tax. (Photo: Courier Mail)

Climate observers said this will send a wrong signal of Australia walking away from its commitment on climate action and it may set a precedent for other countries to backslide.

Climate skeptics and right-wingers are already cheering on Australia’s unprecedented example. Recently, former PM John Howard also scoffed at ”alarmists” in a climate skeptics’ gathering held in London and admitted he is “unconvinced” of an impending ”global warming catastrophe.”

The COP19 expects to bring together around 40,000 attendees from government, academia, business and advocacy groups to advance international agreements that aim to mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects.

In the past, a government minister represented Australia to the UNFCCC.  Ian Campbell headed the delegation under John Howard’s first government in 1997.  Labor Climate Change Ministers Penny Wong and Greg Combet, respectively, attended the conference from 2007, although in  2012, the Gillard government’s parliamentary secretary on climate change Mark Dreyfus attended the conference on behalf of Combet.

Oppositions and environmental groups are wary of the bad signal Australia will be sending to the summit. Opposition climate spokesman Mark Butler said “Other countries are going to read into it at best with confusion and at worst that the Abbott government is walking away from global action on climate change, ” Australia’s leading media The Australian quoted him as saying.

Greens MP Adam Bandt also said it was “understandable” that Minister Hunt was “embarrassed” by his government’s decision to scrap the carbon tax, but it was no excuse to skip the global summit. While no major decisions will be made at Warsaw, the meeting will build momentum in the lead-up to major negotiations for a global agreement on cutting greenhouse gases in Paris in 2015.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt during a media interview (Photo: SBS)

Businesses support repeal of carbon tax

PHP Billiton, among other businesses under the Australian Business Council,  supports the dumping of carbon tax. While backing the Federal Government’s plan, the mining giant, however, urged scrapping the price of carbon should be done as soon as possible. It warned of a possible  complications if it is not done by mid-2014. The mining firm said it still believes in having a price on carbon, but any policy should be trade friendly and revenue neutral.

BHP Billiton noted that repealing the carbon tax will get rid of the current problem of Australian firms paying a higher cost on pollution than their international competitors.  The company shares concerns already expressed by others businesses about the uncertainty that will be created should the legislation not pass by mid-next year.

Climate action nationwide rally

Amid plans to scrap the carbon tax, a climate action is brewing nationwide. Various environmental groups are set to mobilise rallies in every major city nationwide on November 17. It is a collaboration of GetUp, the Australian Conservation Foundation,  the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Environment Victoria, Fire Brigade Employees Union, Greenpeace, 350.org, Oxfam Australia and many other groups. ACF said they intend to make this event as big as they can.

The ACF wants to keep Australia’s carbon tax. It said that while the tide of history is flowing towards pricing pollution, Australia is turning back the clock. Along with the climate action rally, the Foundation also supports an online petition to the prime minister, environment minister, and environment decision makers from all parties.

GetUp who is spearheading the climate action  rally said 2011 was a turning point for Australia.  Climate scientists warned it was the beginning of the critical decade for climate change and thus required stronger action to avoid the catastrophic effects of rising emissions. Australians responded to this warming by enacting the carbon tax.

However, Australia faces another turning point this year– which is poised to “go backwards on climate action at a time when the government’s own independent climate policy advisory body has warned the nation’s current emissions reductions targets are “inadequate” and what it needs is stronger and more ambitious targets.”

Blog Link: The Green Journal/Asian Correspondent

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Aussie forests escape inferno, Greens rejoice

Australia’s old-growth forests will not go to the furnace to generate electricity—at least for now.

Environment watchers are rejoicing over the Parliament’s vote against subsidies intended for loggers to burn native growth forests to generate power.

A campaign against forest burning. (Design by Paul Kimbrell http://www.eastgippsland.net.au)

Tasmania’s Huon Valley Environment Centre, for one, praised the Federal MPs who voted against Lynn MP Robert Oakeshott’s motion to allow Renewable Energy Certificates to be generated by burning wood from the logging of native forest.

The Green Left described the motion as a narrow escape for the logs to avoid the blazing inferno — a vote of 72-72 with Speaker Peter Slipper casting the final ‘no’ vote to Rob Oakeshott’s motion.

A spokeswoman for the Western Australia Forest Alliance, Jess Beckerling, says it is a win for forests around the country. “It’s a really strong indication that common sense has prevailed,” she told the ABC.

In a press statement, the Huon Valley Environment Centre biomass campaigner Will Mooney also said this rejection must encourage government and businesses to search for a truly renewable energy options. He said communities across Australia will be relieved that plans for polluting native forest fuelled power stations will not be eligible to draw on incentives.

He added the vote scrapped the plan to build power station near Lonnavale in Tasmania. A 30MW power station is estimated to consume over 300,000 tonnes of timber a year.

Huon Valley Environment Centre spokesperson Jenny Weber also said the vote “backs up the concerns of conservation organisations, health advocates, scientists and community groups who have voiced a range of concerns about logging industry plans to prop up native forest logging with large scale wood-fired power stations…”

Prior to the vote, letters have been sent to the Members Of Parliament rejecting Oakeshott’s Disallowance Motion.

A Tasmanian tourist spotted this sign and posted it in a travel blog.

The Australian Forest and Climate Alliance urged the MPs to act at this critical time for the future of not only Australia’s forests, but also the climate.

The native forest logging industry is currently experiencing market driven changes that provide the opportunity to shift Australia’s wood and paper production industry onto a sustainable path, based on plantations. The opportunity to transition the forest industry at this critical time will be lost if new incentives are created that will drive ongoing native forest logging.

The disallowance motion put forward by Mr Oakeshott that would allow native forest wood ‘waste’ burnt for electricity to be eligible for Renewable Energy Certificates under the government’s Renewable Energy Target. The climate alliance cited reasons to reject disallowance motion which summarise the unfeasibility of the plan.

This motion, if passed, will create a new incentive to log Australia’s last remaining native forests, prevent the rapid transition into a viable plantation based industry.  Australia’s public native forests are much more valuable as carbon sinks, biodiversity habitats, water providers and purifiers, and as tourist destinations.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet told Nine News the government was determined to provide support for bio-energy investment while also ensuring that native forests are afforded appropriate protection.

“While biomass derived from native forests though is no longer recognised under this regulation as an eligible renewable energy source … those changes do not … prohibit the use of this biomass for bio-energy.”

The vote against Oakeshott put to rest the controversial “endorsement of scientists” who argued burning forest can lead to renewable energy.

A poster purportedly designed in favour of clearfelling (Photo:Anonymous blog)

Early this month, the Port Macquarie News reported a controversial move to classify burning of native wood waste as renewable energy has received support from scientists.

It said 49 forestry scientists and practitioners signed a letter of support for a motion put forward by Lyne MP Rob Oakeshott and seconded by New England independent Tony Windsor that would see logging companies granted Renewable Energy Certificates for burning native forest residues.

Professor Rod Keenan, the director of the Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Research Centre at The University of Melbourne, was among the signatories, the paper reported. Keenan is said to have argued that wood waste, now burnt either in the forests or at the sawmill, was an appropriate substitute for fossil fuels.

However, the Green Left published ” Scientists’ open letter to Oakeshott: Burning forests for energy will make climate change worse.”

At Styx Forest, TAS, the diameter of an old tree can hold a number of people. (Photo: Flickr)

The green publication noted the scientists saying the ”decision to support incentives for native forest-burning power stations has alarming ramifications for communities and natural ecosystems across Australia.”

If you have any question about this article, please leave a Reply or email The Green Journo.

News Link: Asian Correspondent

Carbon tax unconstitutional, goes to high court

Mining billionaire Clive Palmer of Queensland Nickel

The carbon tax circus is not yet over.

Mining magnate Clive Palmer announced he will challenge Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s carbon tax to High Court saying it is unconstitutional.

Palmer said his legal advisers who are “all senior counsels with experience in the High Court” advised him to take legal action against the federal government on the ground of discriminating his company Queensland Nickel.  The Age  said his legal advice would be finalised next week and his company would probably lodge documents with the High Court by April.

Palmer said his lawyers advised him there were several grounds under which the carbon tax is unconstitutional. For one, he said his company was getting less compensation under the carbon tax than rivals BHP Billiton and Glencore.

A spokesman for Climate Change Minister Greg Combet, however, denied the claim saying the government was still awaiting audited data from nickel producers that would then be included in the compensation regulations.

The Age also noted Roland Burt, a principal at Macpherson and Kelley Lawyers, who singled out three potential avenues for a challenge. These include “Commonwealth external powers, the federal government’s power to impose taxes on the states, and the issue of whether tax law could be bundled up with other legislation.”

However, Burt doubts the success of the challenge:

”Clive Palmer will have some of the best legal minds in the country at his disposal and they will certainly put a powerful case….’But my guess is the government has thought about it all carefully enough to design it in a way that will probably – but by no means certainly – survive the challenge.

PM Gillard and her camp insisted that the carbon tax was strictly reviewed during its legislative development and has ”taken careful constitutional advice and legal advice at every stage.”

Greg Craven, a law professor and vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, believes the carbon tax was ”inherently complicated” and ”was always going to end up in the High Court”.

It raised questions about the scope of taxation power, the rights of the states, the Commonwealth’s power to make laws binding the states, and the compulsory acquisition of property.

”If you were looking for a law that was born to be challenged, this is it, because there are billions of dollars at stake.

Andrew Bolt, one of Australia’s most influential columnists said, “ Palmer might be right and the carbon tax wrong.”

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent