While the Pope calls on the world to take action to protect the climate, Australia abandons its carbon tax and invests in coal projects. Now the government wants to cut back on renewable energy and has launched a campaign against wind power. Barbara Barkhausen reports from Sydney.
With his latest encyclical, Pope Francis wants to inspire the masses to fight environmental destruction and climate change. Above all else he wants to see wealthy countries take action, including Australia – which just so happens to have at its head a former trainee Catholic priest: the liberal conservative Tony Abbott. Except Abbott isn’t playing along and instead plans to carry out his meagre climate targets (to reduce the country’s emissions by 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020) in a less conventional manner.
Trees, not taxes
Abbott abolished a well functioning carbon tax last year and closed public climate institutions, laying off hundreds of scientists in the process. His plans to reduce emissions involves financially rewarding polluting companies if they implement environmentally friendly measures. He also wants to plant thousands of new trees to improve the air quality. At 16.9 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions per capita, Australia generates more greenhouse gases that most other western nations on the planet.
Australia goes after wind farms
Much of the blame lies with the coal industry. And yet it has found in Abbott a loyal ally who even went so far as to announce that coal is good for humanity. Surprisingly, Abbott managed to go even one step farther by publicly taking on renewable energy, in particular wind power. In a radio interview last week he said that wind farms are not only “visually awful but they make a lot of noise”. He also speculated about their potential health impact.
Scientific studies, however, have found no evidence that wind turbines have a negative impact on human health. Neither the National Health and Medical Research Council nor
Sydney University or a study from the Australian Medical Association could find any adverse health effects.
But that isn’t stopping Abbott. According to a report from by the public broadcaster ABC, the Australian government wants to appoint a wind farm commissioner to monitor the industrial sector.
Renewable energy targets reduced
The coal market is the main reason why Australia has been able to enjoy hefty profits for decades. And if you lived in Australia, you could be forgiven for not noticing that coal prices are falling around the world or that the “vultures” are waiting to devour what remains of the industry, as the Sydney Morning Herald put it. Just last year the massive Carmichael Mine in Queensland was give the green light to excavate 60 million tonnes of coal per year over the next 60 years.
In return, the government wants to further drive down renewable energy targets. The previous plan to produce 41,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy per year by 2020 has been shelved. The new plan calls for only 33,000 gigawatt hours – and even that was too much for Abbott, who only agreed to those targets because he had to reach a compromise with the opposition.
Vendetta against renewables
“Precisely now when renewable, clean forms of energy are booming in this country, when they are booming around the world, the government and sadly also the opposition decide to drive down our targets and produce less clean energy in this country,” said Greens senator Larissa Walters, who also called the government campaign against wind power “a vendetta against renewables”.
And the renewable energy sector is already suffering under the government’s measures: investments in large-scale wind, solar and other clean energy sources in Australia fell by a whopping 88 per cent in 2014.