Experts have criticised the Australian federal Budget for a lack of action on climate change, saying the fact treasurer Scott Morrison didn’t mention it in his speech is telling.
New energy-related measures announced on Tuesday include $86.3 million to increase gas production, up to $110 million for an equity investment into a solar thermal project in Port Augusta, and a Commonwealth pitch to acquire a greater share of the Snowy Hydro.
In Morrison’s Budget speech, energy security was mentioned in the context of cost-of-living pressures.
“The prime minister’s energy security plan provides reliable and affordable energy for Australians coping with rising electricity prices,” he said.
Morrison said more than $3 billion had already been invested in new emissions technologies.
Dr Paul Burke, a fellow at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University, told BuzzFeed News the omission of the words “climate change” from Morrison’s Budget speech does not bode well.
“The fact it’s not even mentioned does not send a good signal in the lead up to the review [of climate change policies] to be released later this year,” he said.
“It shows that climate change isn’t a number one priority if it’s not mentioned at all in a Budget speech.”
Burke also said Australia would have been better off keeping the ill-fated carbon pricing scheme introduced by the Gillard government in 2011.
“From a Budget balance point of view, it would have made more sense to have a carbon price that brings in money than the Emissions Reduction Fund with outlays.”
Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie told BuzzFeed News she was concerned Australia is not acknowledging the economic implications of climate change.
“Given that climate change is increasingly an economic threat to Australia, it should be front and centre in thinking about funding and key solutions,” she said.
“The Great Barrier Reef experienced the worst bleaching ever last year and has seen another one follow this year, that’s affected the tourism industry. There’s impact on infrastructure and agriculture and all sorts of things.”
She criticised a lack of new money for renewables: “The way you deal with extensive energy cost is to invest in technology with lower energy costs. Renewable energy is now cheaper than gas or coal, and has no fuel costs. It’s not vulnerable to the costs that gas has experienced.”
But McKenzie said the Snowy Hydro scheme was a “bright spot” in the budget – as long as it’s run using renewables.
“The Snowy Hydro scheme is an important contribution. Having pumped hydro as a storage solution for renewable energy is extremely valuable. You’ve got various renewables like solar and wind, and then you need hydros and batteries to hold that. The important thing is that the hydro expansion does not necessarily mean the energy that is used to pump that hydro is renewable – it could be fossil fuels,” she said.
“If they go ahead and it’s renewables, it’s a good thing. We’ll wait and see but hopefully that’s going in the right direction”
Professor Terry Hughes, from the James Cook University’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, told BuzzFeed News the budget held “no substantive cuts, but no real response to climate change”.
Hughes has previously warned that the coral bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef have become the “new normal”.
“An appropriate response to the bleaching would have been to invest heavily and speed up the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and that didn’t happen,” he said.
“The Budget was an opportunity to respond in a meaningful way to the back-to back bleaching of the coral reef, and that wasn’t taken.”
Hughes said “the elephant in the room is climate change” when it comes to saving the Great Barrier Reef, with many interim measures “gimmicks and bandaids”.
“It’s the single biggest threat to the Great Barrier Reef and they’re not doing anything about it – certainly not in this Budget.”