A damp squib, a wasted opportunity, or a practical plan that needs leadership: the Turnbull government’s review of climate policy is out and the response is less than welcoming.
The environment department’s year-long review, released on Tuesday, has concluded the government’s existing climate policies are good enough to meet Australia’s international commitment to cut emissions.
But the latest greenhouse gas inventory data, also issued on Tuesday, shows the nation’s emissions rose again in the year to the end of June.
Emissions are expected to rise further to 2030 instead of the fall needed to meet Australia’s Paris Agreement target of 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels.
The government will stick with the Emissions Reduction Fund as its centrepiece policy.
However, it has only said it will consider adding more money to the $2.5 billion fund, which now has just $265 million left in its coffers.
Big business says if this is to remain the centrepiece, it is essential it be fully implemented.
While the review outlined a sensible plan, it needs political leadership to keep emissions on track, the Business Council of Australia believes.
“Playing politics … will risk this critical opportunity to put Australia’s climate change and energy policies back on track,” chief executive Jennifer Westacott said.
The government has promised to work with business to change the safeguard mechanism on emissions from the 140 businesses that account for about half the country’s pollution.
Options floated in the review include allowing them to increase “baseline” emissions as productions levels rise – meaning they could pollute more without needing offsets.
“If anything, the Turnbull government wants to make it easier for bigger polluters to start to increase their pollution levels, not to get them down,” Labor’s environment spokesman Mark Butler told reporters.
Stakeholders told reviewers a long-term climate policy was vital to support investment, but the government believes its sector-by-sector approach remains the best strategy.
However, it has committed to developing a longer-term, non-prescriptive strategy by 2020.
The Climate Council says there’s nothing new in the review.
“If you were opening up your Christmas presents, this would be an empty shell or at best a present that we’ve had before,” head of research Martin Rice told AAP.
“It’s a wasted opportunity for the federal government to really act.”
The Australian Conservation Foundation called the review a “damp squib” that kicked the can down the road until at least 2020.
One significant step forward is giving in-principle support for Australians to buy international offsets, pending the final Paris Agreement rules shaping global carbon markets. It may also consider allowing Australian units to be sold overseas.
Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg says the thinking is to seek the lowest cost abatement available.
Carbon Market Institute head Peter Castellas says this at least leaves the door open for business to help revise policy settings.