Australia’s Prime Minister-designate Malcolm Turnbull will stick to current policy on climate change, he said after ousting Tony Abbott by 54 party room votes to 44 on Monday night, denting hopes that a change in leadership would immediately lead to a more ambitious emissions target or a carbon trading scheme for the country.
In a press conference after the dramatic vote, Turnbull told reporters he would carry on Australia’s policy on climate change, which relies on the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) to cut carbon emissions.
“Policies are reviewed and adapted all the time. But the climate policy is one that I think has been very well designed. That was a very, very good piece of work,” he said.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who will be Turnbull’s deputy, added that Australia had already set a target for 2030, signalling that Australia may not be willing to move from its goal of 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030 at the December UN summit in Paris, despite domestic and international criticism that it lacks ambition.
According to observers, Turnbull’s focus until the federal election – slated for late next year unless he calls one sooner – is likely to be on the economy and on mending relations with MPs who supported Abbott, most of whom oppose ambitious climate policies.
TURNBULL A REFORMER?
“Malcolm Turnbull in the past took a considered attitude to climate change policy, with an emphasis on cost effectiveness as well as effectiveness,” Frank Jotzo, an associate professor at the Australian National University, told Carbon Pulse.
”He has said that he would not seek to re-introduce an ETS, but it is to be expected that there will be reform of climate change policy if he still is PM after the next election,” Jotzo said.
Any pre-election climate policy changes would most likely be related to Australia’s renewable energy policy rather than introducing a complex carbon market, as Abbott’s slashing of the renewables target was hugely unpopular among voters, observers said.
Turnbull has a history of backing modest market solutions to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
His 2009 deal with then-PM Kevin Rudd on introducing an ETS in Australia sealed his fate the last time he led the Liberal party. He was challenged by Abbott and lost a party room ballot by a single vote.
Soon after he wrote an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald titled “Abbott’s climate policy is bullshit”, as Abbott went on a lengthy campaign against anything related to pricing carbon emissions, which eventually helped win him the 2013 election in a landslide.
But one observer from the environmental markets industry said unlike Abbott, Turnbull would be likely to attend the UN climate talks in Paris.
“That has to be a step in the right direction,” he said, declining to be named.
Meanwhile, Climate Institute CEO John Connor urged the new PM to include decarbonisation of Australia’s coal-dependent economy as part of his plan to modernize the economy, and referred to a recent poll showing that over 70% of Australians supported action to reduce GHG emissions.
“Australian climate, clean energy and carbon policy discussions have been caught in deep division for too long and it is important to understand that in 2015 those divisions aren’t as deep in the broader Australian community,” he said.
By Stian Reklev and Mike Szabo – firstname.lastname@example.org