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Tony Abbott has doubled down on his scepticism of climate change science, reigniting a decade-old debate in a major speech in London after the Turnbull government moved yesterday to rule out proceeding with a clean energy target proposed by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel.
The former prime minister has labelled the likely backdown on a CET a “belated” gesture and warned that the Coalition is courting a “political death wish” if it fails to put cost of living and protection of jobs ahead of reducing emissions.
In a speech delivered early today that will further test the political fault lines over energy policy in the Coalition party room, Mr Abbott resurrected his 2009 declaration that the so-called settled science on climate change was “absolute crap” and claimed that any effort Australia made to reduce emissions would be futile in a global context.
In his most controversial speech on climate change since the 2009 speech to a country Victorian gathering, Mr Abbott told London’s centre-right Global Warming Policy Forum that climate-change policies had done more harm than climate change itself, suggesting global warming was “probably doing good; or at least, more good than harm”.
Likening the economic harm from climate-change policies to “primitive people once killing goats to appease the volcano gods”, Mr Abbott accused lobbyists of creating a religion out of global warming while rent-seeking on government subsidies. He warned that the Coalition was at risk of becoming captive to this new “post-Christian theology”.
Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg yesterday responded to mounting pressure within the Coalition party room, hinting the Finkel recommendation of a CET to reduce emissions and secure generation would be dropped.
“It is against this backdrop of a declining cost curve for renewables and storage, greater efficiencies that can be found in thermal generation (upgrading to existing coal fired plants) and the need for sufficient dispatchable power in the system that we are considering the Finkel Review’s 50th recommendation to which we’ll respond before the end of the year,” Mr Frydenberg said.
Mr Abbott welcomed the development but said the government needed to go further and abolish all subsidies for renewables and freeze the Renewable Energy Target.
“Belatedly, the government is now suggesting that there might not be a new CET after all,” Mr Abbott said. “There must not be — and the government still needs to deal with what’s yet to come under the existing target.
“At last year’s election, the government chose not to campaign on power prices even though Labor was promising a 50 per cent Renewable Energy Target, requiring a $50 billion overbuild of wind farms, and a 45 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030, requiring a new carbon tax.
“After a net gain of 25 seats at the previous two elections, when we had campaigned on power prices, we had a net loss of 14 when we didn’t. And subsequent events have made the politics of power once more the central battleground between and within the two main parties.”
Mr Abbott’s speech comes at a critical juncture as the Turnbull government seeks to mark out opposing territory in the debate with Labor leader Bill Shorten who yesterday confirmed his party’s commitment to a 50 per cent RET.
Mr Abbott’s most provocative statements, reserved for climate change science, are certain to ignite outrage from the climate lobby and stir accusations he buried his scepticism while prime minister. It will also revive the defining point of difference with Malcolm Turnbull, which in 2009 elevated Mr Abbott to the leadership.
“Beware the pronouncement ‘the science is settled’,” Mr Abbott told the forum, attended by 200 people and chaired by leading British climate science sceptic and former UK chancellor of the exchequer Nigel Lawson.
“It’s the spirit of the Inquisition, the thought-police down the ages. Almost as bad is the claim that ‘99 per cent of scientists believe’ as if scientific truth is determined by votes rather than facts. Contrary to the breathless assertions that climate change is behind every weather event, in Australia the floods are not bigger, the bushfires are not worse, the droughts are not deeper or longer, and the cyclones are not more severe than they were in the 1800s. Sometimes, they do more damage but that’s because there’s more to destroy, not because their intensity has increased. More than 100 years of photography at Manly Beach in my electorate does not suggest that sea levels have risen despite frequent reports from climate alarmists that this is imminent.
“Then there’s the evidence that higher concentrations of carbon dioxide — which is a plant food after all — are actually greening the planet and helping to lift agricultural yields. In most countries, far more people die in cold snaps than in heatwaves, so a gradual lift in global temperatures, especially if it’s accompanied by more prosperity and more capacity to adapt to change, might even be beneficial.”
Mr Abbott said that Australia needed to adopt “evidence-based policy rather than policy-based evidence” and questioned whether reducing emissions really was necessary to save the planet. “Our effort, however herculean, is barely better than futile, because Australia’s total annual emissions are exceeded by just the annual increase in China’s,” he said.