Turnbull's climate policy cannot ignore gas boom

Australia's new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Australia's new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

The dust hasn’t settled, but questions are starting to surface over how the federal government’s quick-fire change in leadership will impact Australia’s long-running battle with effective climate policy.

After taking the reins as Prime Minister from Tony Abbott late last night in a snap Liberal leadership ballot, Malcolm Turnbull made a point to say no changes would come to the country’s policy stance.

It came just hours after his blistering attack on Mr Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey over their mismanagement of the country’s economy.

But while Mr Turnbull’s pledge to retain the existing policy settings and boost the nation’s economy all seem promising for the struggling resources and energy industry, certainty, it seems, is still far from guaranteed with analysts today forecasting a gradual shift in the Coalition’s climate change position.

The Federal government’s emissions reduction target of 26-28 per cent by 2030 (based on 2005 levels) has been touted as striking the right balance for big emissions producing industries. Critics however have slammed it as not being ambitious enough.

Citing Mr Turnbull’s acceptance speech after last night’s result, Roger Dargaville, carbon emissions and energy expert at the University of Melbourne said he hoped change was on the horizon.

“No change to climate policies. (But) I’d be hopeful things will get more progressive, but it’s wait and see at this stage.”

And Business Spectator’s Robert Gottliebsen today stated that strengthening the Coalition’s climate policy position is almost a guaranteed under a Turnbull government.

Historically, Mr Turnbull has been a well-publicised advocate for direct action on climate change - a campaign that inevitably led to his demise as Liberal leader in 2009.

He was an architect of the Howard government’s Emissions Trading Scheme in 2007 and backer of an ETS well into the Rudd years – even labelling Mr Abbott’s lack of emissions reduction ambitions as “bulls—t” in a 2009 blog post.

“First, let’s get this straight. You cannot cut emissions without a cost. To replace dirty coal fired power stations with cleaner gas fired ones, or renewables like wind let alone nuclear power or even coal fired power with carbon capture and storage is all going to cost money,” Mr Turnbull wrote.

“So any suggestion that you can dramatically cut emissions without any cost is, to use a favourite term of Mr Abbott, ‘bulls—t.’ Moreover he knows it.”

That year, Mr Turnbull stated that he would “not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am”.

While there is certainly evidence to suggest the government’s climate policies will be bolstered under Turnbull rule and a reincarnation of an ETS could even resurface, there is also evidence that the future for gas might be equally as bright however subject to strict regulation.

In his role as environment minister for the Howard government, Mr Turnbull pushed for cleaner coal and backed the development of gas-fired technologies.

He oversaw final approval for Chevron’s $73 billion Gorgon LNG project in 2007 after imposing 36 state environmental conditions, which Chevron Australia general manager for the greater Gorgon area Colin Beckett described as the most stringent imposed on a major project anywhere in the world.

Mr Turnbull touted Gorgon’s approval as a sustainable balance between “environmental and economic considerations”.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt insisted the leadership change would not impact on the government’s climate change policies.

“Prime Minister Turnbull has already said he intends to keep our climate change policies and targets. Right now our focus is on the future. We are focused on the economy, jobs and security,” he said.

However Mr Turnbull decides to marry his long-standing advocacy for hard-lined climate policy and his apparent dedication to economic prosperity, there is no doubt that the looming LNG export and production boom – forecast to lift GDP and satisfy severe domestic energy shortfalls – will play a pivotal role in striking the right balance. And Gas Today is keen to see this happen.

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