Australia has a new Environment and Energy Minister... but what does it mean for climate policy?

Two weeks after the Federal Election we finally have a confirmed Government, and as of yesterday, a new ministry.

While Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made minor changes to the Cabinet overall, the Environment portfolio received a major shake-up.

Incumbent Minister for Environment Greg Hunt is moving onto Industry, Innovation and Science, while Josh Frydenberg is taking on the expanded Environment and Energy portfolio.

So what does this mean for the future of climate policy in Australia?

It’s definitely too early to tell – but we think merging the Energy and Environment portfolios is a positive step, as these two issues are closely linked.

As for the new Minister? Here’s what we know about Frydenberg’s positions on coal, renewable energy and emissions reduction (based on public comments):

COAL


Frydenberg says:

  • Coal will remain a vital part of Australia’s energy mix: “Coal-fired power plants will continue to play an important role in generating electricity in Australia” (SMH)
  • Coal decline is a “fallacy”: Frydenberg wants to “dispel the fallacy” that the sector is in trouble (RenewEconomy)
  • Coal and renewables can coexist: “The government does not consider maintaining Australia's coal industry and increasing Australia's renewable energy use as being mutually exclusive goals" (SMH)
  • Coal is important for a smooth transition to renewables and to protect against cost: "It is important that this transition takes place in a smooth and cost effective way, without interruption to electricity supply" (SMH)

The Climate Council says:

  • Burning coal for electricity is one of the key drivers of climate change
  • Coal decline is a necessity: if we are to tackle climate change effectively
  • No new coal mines: Any new coal mine is fundamentally at odds with protecting Australia from the impacts of climate change
  • Read more in our report: Unburnable Carbon: Why we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground

RENEWABLES

Frydenberg says:

  • Renewables are growing: “A transition is already underway in Australia's electricity sector, with the revised Renewable Energy Target of more than 23% set to drive a doubling of large-scale renewable energy between 2014 and 2020” (SMH)
  • Low Emissions Technology Roadmap: Frydenberg recently tasked the CSIRO with developing a Low Emissions Technology Roadmap, with areas for consideration including “renewable energy, smart grids, carbon capture and storage, electric vehicles and energy efficiency” (The Conversation)
  • Supported a reduced RET and challenged Labor on it its 50% RET by 2030: “because it would cost $48 billion and added infrastructure costs” (RenewEconomy)
  • Notes role of solar and wind in Australia's energy mix: "I think wind farms, I think solar, I think they all have a role to play” (ABC)
  • Pledged to set up a community solar project: The Solar Communities programme will provide funding “for groups across Australia to install rooftop solar PV, solar hot water and battery storage systems for community owned buildings” (Media Release)

The Climate Council says:

  • Renewables are booming globally, but Australia is slow on the uptake
  • Local governments and communities are leading the way: despite federal government inaction
  • Renewables create jobs: Moving to a 50% RET by 2030 would create more than 28,000 jobs nationally
  • Read more in our reports about renewables jobs, the Australian renewables race and the global renewables boom

EMISSIONS REDUCTION TARGET (ERT)


Frydenberg says:

  • Australia’s ERT is the 2nd highest taken to Paris on a per capita basis: "The target we took to Paris which was to reduce our emissions by 26 to 28% on 2005 levels by 2030, saw the second highest target taken to Paris on a per capita basis” (Q&A)

ABC FactCheck says:

  • Incorrect: the emissions targets which Australia took to Paris were at most 5th in the world on a per capita basis (ABC Fact Check)

The Climate Change Authority says:

  • Australia should move to a minimum 19%* target by 2020, and a 45% to 65% reduction on 2005 levels by 2030. These targets are the bare minimum for Australia to be both in line with the science and the rest of the world (Climate Change Authority)

* The recommended 19% target includes Australia's carryover from the first commitment period of Kyoto Protocol.

Image credits:

  • Josh Frydenberg: ABC News Breakfast
  • Coal: Flickr user isnapshot licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
  • Renewables: Flickr user RTPeat licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
  • Emissions Reduction: Jmdigne via Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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