Finkel Blueprint Creates Political Crisis .
I concluded my Commentary last Sunday with the view that the Blueprint published by Chief Scientist Finkel has so many deficiencies that it is “not acceptable as a basis for Australia’s climate policy”. On Monday, The Australian’s political correspondent Crowe wrote a rather accommodative report on what he described as Finkel’s “first response to critics of the blueprint” but he offered little criticism or questioning of the Blueprint . His report was accompanied on digital by a five page conversation with Finkel which posed only limited questions. Nor (surprisingly) did he refer to any of the criticisms of Blueprint in News Ltd articles published on Saturday by Terry McCrann and Judith Sloan and yesterday on The Australian’s opinion page by expert climate analyst William Kininmonth (see Kininmonth on Finkel).
My reading of Finkel’s answers to Crowe’s questions, and the News Ltd articles, confirmed my initial conclusion that his Blueprint is not acceptable and that Turnbull has wrongly described it as having merit. That is reinforced by today’s The Australian. Unless Turnbull recognises the deficiencies there is likely to be a political crisis within the Coalition (see further below).
But first of all it is important to recognise that William Kininmonth was for many years the head of Australia’s National Climate Centre and was also Australian delegate to the World Meteorology Organisation’s Commission for Climatology. His expertise on influences on the climate is legend. By contrast, Finkel has had little or no experience in climate analysis and his scientific qualifications relate to electrical engineering and neuroscience. He did not even acknowledge Kininmonth’s letter offering to discuss climate issues.
In his article Kininmonth points out that the Blueprint is composed on the assumption that reducing emissions would continue on the basis of a 26-28% reduction by 2030 and a target of zero emissions by the second half of the century. Remarkably, this assumption is made even though, according to Finkel, “we were not given any targets”! One suspects that in fact Finkel (who was appointed by Turnbull) had “discussions” with Turnbull about targets. Kininmonth’s article contains many critiques of the Blueprint, including that “it does not address the appropriateness of the Paris Accord as a policy objective (too hard? –politically incorrect?)”; that it does not recognise that global temperatures have not matched the IPCC scenario of anthropogenic global warming “and scientists don’t know why” ( satellite monitoring shows warming of about 0.3C since 1980 compared with the lowest IPCC scenario of 0.7-1.6C); and that “concern over anthropogenic emissions are misplaced”.
Today’s Australian runs another article by Judith Sloan (see Sloan on Finkel) pointing out that it is absurd to be even thinking about lower household costs for electricity when the use of high cost renewable would increase in circumstances where carbon emissions would decrease under the target to reduce by 26-28% by 2030 ( Finkel tells Crowe that “households would pay less for electricity under a clean energy target compared with existing rules, using modelling that assumes an energy intensity threshold of 0.6 tonnes of carbon emissions per megawatt hour — high enough for some gas providers to qualify but too low for coal power stations”. But the only way that could happen is by massive increases in budget subsidies of renewable).
Today’s Australian also runs 6 letters damning the Blueprint, including one by me and (importantly) one by former Treasury Secretary, John Stone, who asks “How this man comes to be proposing a report on a matter vital to our industrial future is a question to which only our leaderless federal government could provide an answer” (see Finkel Letters). In addition, the Herald Sun runs another article by Terry McCrann, who points out that Finkel “knows next to nothing about economics or business reality or even just plain old reality”. His article concludes that “You face a future of ever-spiralling power bills and increasingly likely blackouts. But the pollies will always have Paris and mutual global talk-festing adulation” (see McCrann on Finkel).
Despite all this, political editor Crowe writes another article which uncritically quotes Turnbull as having “ told MPs there is nothing in the clean energy proposal to punish power generators using fossil fuels” (see Crowe on Finkel & Turnbull). This fairy tale was presumably run before today’s Party Room meeting. Crowe also takes the opportunity to attack Abbott for decisions on increases in renewable made two years ago while at the same time acknowledging that Abbott’s initial response today is that the Blueprint is a “magic pudding” which is “effectively a tax on coal and that’s the last thing we want”. The fact that “incentives” (ie subsidies) are provided to renewable means that they effectively operate as a tax on coal ie contrary to criticism of him using “tax”, the substance of what he said is correct.
Abbott also seems correct in saying that Shorten “would have to be favourite to win the next election” (see Abbott on Shorten’s Election Prospects). The one thing that might “save” the Coalition is to replace Turnbull asap.