Topics: Emissions Reduction Fund, G20, Joe Hockey’s comments on Australia’s emissions
First though, I began by asking the Environment Minister about the Direct Action plan and the Government’s Emissions Reduction Fund – where it’s at and where to over the next twelve to eighteen months.
Sure. We’ve already passed the funding through both the House and the Senate, which is $2.5 billion as part of the Budget process. The enabling legislation has been through the House and the enabling legislation is due to come before the Senate in all probability in the next sitting fortnight.
This is about reducing emissions without an electricity tax. And I am increasingly confident that we can strike an agreement with the crossbench. I’ve been very heartened by the work and words of Nick Xenophon, the work and words of the Palmer United Party and we’re working constructively with Senators right across the crossbench.
What this means is that we not only open opportunities to reduce emissions without Bill Shorten’s new electricity and carbon tax, but we support over 160 existing projects from Indigenous groups, from farm groups, from waste landfill gas firms that are cleaning up emissions.
All of those 160 plus projects would be at risk if the ALP and the Greens were to block the Carbon Farming Initiative legislation before the Senate. So we hope that they come to their senses , support projects, which until now they have actually supported, and allow us to reduce Australia’s emissions at lowest cost.
I guess the question is, how certain are you that there will be enough emission reduction to acquire, to purchase, at the price tag that the Government has set?
Sure. So it’s a market mechanism so there’s not a specific price that we have set. The market will clear that. But for your viewers, what we’re doing is going in and like laser surgery, focussing on the lowest cost emissions reduction by buying through a competitive process energy efficiency, cleaning up landscapes, reducing emissions from waste landfill gas, cleaning up power stations, as opposed to the general approach of the Labor Party of using pain caused by higher electricity and gas prices to try to suppress economic activity and to hurt families and hurt pensioners and hurt small businesses.
Two very different approaches and I’ve got to say that, you know, the world has the idea of on the one hand higher electricity and gas prices, but President Obama wants lower electricity and gas prices and the world has on the other hand, the laser surgery of targeting emissions reductions where you can find them on a lowest cost basis.
We are squarely in the second camp. Bill Shorten and the ALP are, despite the vote of the Australian people, now want to bring back a carbon tax and increase electricity and gas prices by 9% and 7% respectively – we don’t.
Bill Shorten, just on that point, he has said that he wants a market-based carbon price and as you’ve said again this morning, that means a return to the carbon tax. But isn’t the way Direct Action works through, you know, the purchase of emissions, isn’t that a carbon price in a form itself?
No it’s not. What we have here are two very different approaches and one is about taxing all of the production, taxing all of the effort in an economy, particularly through energy, through electricity and gas and ultimately, of course, petrol because they’ll have to do a deal with the Greens. The Greens want to put a massive new 6.5 cent a litre tax on petrol.
And the other is about saying we’re not going to increase the price of electricity or gas, we’re going to focus specifically on buying reductions. So a water buy-back as opposed to a water tax, which I think Australians well understand and therefore we’re buying emissions reduction, whether it’s energy efficiency, Indigenous groups cleaning up and reducing emissions through targeted burning to prevent large-scale bushfires in Northern Australia.
We’re working on landscape improvement to capture carbon in trees and soil and protecting forests and protecting vegetation. We’re working on cleaning up some of the power stations in Australia. There’s a long pipeline of businesses and projects which are already emerging, far in excess of what I’d anticipated at this stage and in all probability at a lower price than I’d anticipated. So we will achieve our targets. We will do it on budget. We’ll do it without a carbon tax and we’ll do it without higher electricity and gas prices.
But right now, the only people standing between Australia and lower emissions and the only people threatening higher electricity and gas prices are the ALP and the Greens and I’d say to them – listen to the will of the Australian people and don’t put over 160 existing projects at risk.
So you remain adamant, Minister, that the nation will meet its target of 5% reduction by 2020. What about beyond 2020? What upscale is there in your package, if there is say an agreement, a global agreement at the end of next year as we head into the Paris Summit at the end of next year, when nations will in all possibility commit to the post-2020 targets? What’s in your mind and the Government’s mind in terms of that policy beyond Direct Action?
Well the Emissions Reduction Fund is designed to be a policy that is flexible and adjustable, it can endure over a course of decades and it’s an alternative to a carbon tax and so the combination of crediting and purchasing, where we are purchasing emissions reduction and the safeguards mechanism together, mean that it is intended to last for some decades.
It fits squarely with the needs of Australia and remember this – we are part of the Paris process. We want a good global agreement because that’s the best thing for the planet. It’s also the best thing to protect Australia so as we’re not caught in a unilateral position, but we can reduce emissions, we can do it in good company with China and India, with the United States and Japan and the EU. That would be a wonderful outcome for the world.
I remain hopeful that the world will achieve a balanced outcome at Paris. I think a lot of lessons have been learnt from the debacle at Copenhagen and we are part of this process fairly and squarely, we will contribute and we’ve got a policy which doesn’t just last for the rest of this decade, but is designed with flexibility to be in place over coming decades.
Mr Hunt, the President, US President’s international adviser Caroline Atkinson, had said that she wanted to see specific steps, a political push at the G20, given that 80% of the world’s carbon emissions come from G20 nations. If it’s not on the table and it’s not addressed, is that a missed opportunity next month in Brisbane?
Well it is on the table and it will be addressed and the Prime Minister has specifically set out the fact that energy efficiency is the great contribution which this G20 meeting can make.
The G20 in Brisbane is bookended by Ban Ki Moon’s Paris Summit, Ban Ki Moon’s Leaders Summit in New York and the Lima Conference at the end of this year and the Paris Summit at the end of next year. And so the G20 comes in the middle of that. What we don’t want to do is just repeat what’s occurring in other processes.
What we can do as part of the overall theme of productivity is deal with energy efficiency and energy productivity which is both about decreasing poverty, increasing net prosperity and decreasing emissions and it’s a tremendous pathway to cleaning up many of the great global cities and if you think of Beijing and Shanghai and some of the challenges that they have with air pollution, then this is a pathway for the developed and the developing world to work together and I think it’s both a practical and a high-minded and noble pursuit.
I want to ask you a couple of questions to finish now on comments made this week by a couple of your colleagues. The Prime Minister said that coal is good for humanity, it’s good for prosperity and is an essential part of our future. Isn’t it fair to say though, without technology like carbon capture and storage, that coal might not be good for humanity indefinitely?
Look, we have two great challenges for humanity in this space. One is to pull not just millions, not just tens of millions but hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. That task is occurring in India, in China and Indonesia, but there’s still more than a billion people in abject poverty and electricity supply is one of the fundamental elements.
Coal is about 40%, give or take, of global electricity supply. In Australia it’s roughly three-quarters of the electricity supply and so it provides a critical role in providing sanitation and health and education capacity through lights and electricity and all of the basics which we take for granted.
The other side, of course, is emissions reduction and the central task here and one of the biggest gifts Australia could give the world is what we’re working on now in the La Trobe Valley and the CSIRO is at the global forefront of dramatically reducing our emissions per unit of coal-fired electricity.
The CSIRO says there’s between a thirty and fifty percent reduction from the direct injection carbon engines that they’re working on with the MAN Group from Germany. Beyond that, the capture of CO2 and I think more the reuse through algal fuels and algal energies which President Obama and Bill Gates and Craig Venter, who sequenced the human genome, have focussed on, rather than capture and storage which is really a deadweight.
I think those two processes, of the new engines and the capture and reuse for algal energy which is about replacing old oil-based products, offer enormous prospects for the world of maintaining our productivity, improving our productivity, but reducing emissions.
There’s too much doom and gloom here. Climate change is a real and significant and fundamental challenge, but humanity has immense capacity to reduce our emissions and to provide the, you know, billion people without real electricity supply on any significant basis, with a pathway to prosperity.
And, just finally, Joe Hockey’s comments this week. He was asked on the BBC about the – well the proposition was put to him that Australia is amongst the most dirtiest, greenhouse gas emitting countries in the OECD group of developed countries. The Treasurer said that that proposition was absolutely ridiculous, but according to OECD data at any scale, Australia is right up there in per capita terms, isn’t it?
Well I think Joe’s been badly misrepresented here. He wasn’t asked about per capita. Obviously the per capita figures are well known. He was asked about our emissions and we’re 1.4% of global emissions and whether you look at the United States or Japan or Germany or Canada within the OECD, there are many other countries with very significant outputs.
But the real point here is that we are right in the process of seeking to reduce our emissions here in Australia. Instead of having a massive, Bill Shorten-led electricity tax, the return of the electricity and gas tax, right now we can reduce our footprint as a country, right now we can invest in cleaning-up our power stations.
All we need to do over the next sitting fortnight is to get the support of the ALP or the Greens or the crossbench to protect existing Indigenous and community and waste landfill gas projects to reduce our emissions with new projects. We can do this and I would call on the ALP and the Greens to support the very projects, which before the election they thought were fundamental and not to be wreckers or blockers.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt, appreciate your time this morning.
Thanks very much Kieran.