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Tony Abbott leaves climate change out of his drought relief calculations

Tony Abbott, Australia

Tony Abbott meets grazier John Cramp, left, near Broken Hill on Monday as part of a drought tour with agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce, right. Photograph: Andrew Meares/AAP


Powered by article titled “Tony Abbott leaves climate change out of his drought relief calculations” was written by Lenore Taylor, for on Monday 17th February 2014 03.30 UTC

It seems obvious, but apparently it isn’t. If you remove the reality of climate change from government decision-making you risk making the wrong decisions.

Obviously the drought is causing extreme hardship for farmers in parts of New South Wales and Queensland and the government is about to announce a package of short-term measures to assist them.

But surely long-term drought policy needs to take into account the evidence that climate change means rainfall patterns are changing and that also means changes in what can be farmed, and where.

Asked about this on Monday, prime minister Tony Abbott appeared to suggest it did not.

He said records going back 150 years showed there had always been “good times and bad times”, that there had been “droughts since the beginning of settlement”.

In other words, just as the government refused to accept climate change might lead to an increased frequency of bushfire weather, it also appears to reject the idea that climate change might have a bearing on the frequency or location of drought, or on the long-term farming conditions of particular farming areas.

President Barack Obama sees the link between US weather patterns, farming and climate change. Meeting drought-stricken farmers in California on Friday he foreshadowed a $1bn “climate resilience fund”.

And before the Abbott government abolished it, the independent climate commission in its Critical Decade report suggested Australia was facing similar pressures.

It said that “changing rainfall patterns, the increasing risk of extreme heat and bushfire weather present challenges for Australian agriculture. Production of temperature and water sensitive broad acre crops, fruit, vegetables and wine grapes need to adapt to these changing growing conditions or move to locations where growing conditions are more amenable to their production.”

Similarly, the imminent review into the renewable energy target seems to be driven by an exaggerated assessment of its impact on power bills, rather than any assessment of why it could be a good idea to continue to encourage the use of more renewable energy.

After recent cabinet divisions about who should do the review and how far it should go, Abbott told Alan Jones on Monday morning the government was “very close” to announcing it, and that it would report within months.

Asked by Jones, “how can we justify providing subsidies to solar energy and wind power with borrowed money when many of those companies are foreign companies, Thai companies, for example?”, Abbott replied, “well, that is a very fair point, Alan, and that is why we are very close to announcing a review into this which will report in a matter of months and then the government will have more to say because just as the carbon tax is massively boosting power prices, the renewable energy targets are also having an impact on prices. Not as great, but still not insignificant. What this government wants to do is bear down on prices.”

Last December, Abbott described the price impact of the Renewable Energy Target (RET) as “pretty significant”.

According to the Australian Energy Market Commission in 2013-14 the RET was responsible for around 4% of the average household bill, falling to a likely 3.1% in 2014-15.

Other estimates, from the New South Wales Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal and the Queensland Competition Authority, fall within a range of between 3% and 5% of retail electricity bills.

But because the RET is already providing ongoing subsidies to existing renewable energy projects, reducing or removing it will not translate into an immediate removal of the small price impact it has had so far.

Modelling for the climate change authority by Sinclair Knight Merz found removing the RET altogether would reduce an average household bill by just $15 a year.

Even then opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt told parliament in June 2013 the price rises due to the RET were relatively small.

“The facts of the renewable energy target are these. According to the NSW Ipart, in the year just past we had an 18% price rise in NSW electricity, of which 9% was the carbon tax – 10% on average around the country – and 0.3% came from the renewable energy target: one-thirtieth of the carbon tax and one-sixtieth of the RET.”

And the climate change authority, when it last reviewed the RET in December 2012, found there was a good case to keep it to continue to encourage investment in renewable power.

Of course if it hadn’t factored in the impact of climate change or the long-term need to change Australia’s fossil fuel use in response to it, it would have come up with a very different calculation. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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