The Climate Commission has been scrapped and billions of dollars in renewable energy funding effectively frozen as the Abbott government moved swiftly to wind back Australia’s climate change response, as promised.
Outgoing chief commissioner Tim Flannery, who was told yesterday morning he had lost his $180,000-a-year, part-time role, said abolishing the publicly funded body was “the government’s prerogative” but he would not be silenced.
“I intend to continue working to make sure that the Australian public has all the information it requires in order to engage with this issue and understand what needs to be done,” he said.
New Environment Minister Greg Hunt phoned Professor Flannery yesterday morning to deliver the news in what was described as a “civil discussion”.
The decision to terminate the commission, created by then prime minister Julia Gillard in early 2011 to explain to the public climate change and the need for carbon pricing, comes one week ahead of the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change updated report on the state of climate science.
The imminent report has sparked lively international debate about how it would deal with an extended pause in average global surface temperatures and why the predictions of many climate models have not been matched by the physical evidence.
Professor Flannery said he had not seen the IPCC report and would not comment until he had had time to analyse it.
“I think what you need to do is look at the report carefully, analyse it and then try to explain what is in it for people who are not specialists,” Professor Flannery said. “Relying on rumour and hearsay is unhelpful in that area.”
Scrapping the Climate Commission is expected to save taxpayers $580,000 this financial year and $1.6 million in following years.
Mr Hunt said he had written to Professor Flannery and the other five commissioners, thanking them for their efforts and formally advising them of the decision, effective immediately. The commission had been in caretaker mode since the federal election was called.
“The Coalition believes it is the role of the Department of Environment to provide independent advice and analysis on climate change and that the role of the Climate Commission was duplicating the work of the department,” Mr Hunt said.
But Professor Flannery said it had never been the role of the Climate Commission to provide advice to government. “Our role was to provide authoritative, reliable and easy-to-understand information about what is happening in the Earth’s climate system, what other countries are doing in terms of addressing the issue, and what sort of options are open to a country that wants to address the issue from an economic perspective,” Professor Flannery said. “We don’t sell a message. We simply provide information for the Australian public to make up its own mind.”
The commission delivered reports with titles including the “angry summer” and “critical decade”, which claimed climate change was already having a negative impact in Australia. The reports were widely publicised and drew criticism about the commission allegedly running an agenda.
Macquarie University academics Ryan Crompton and John McAneney responded to the “angry summer” report with a paper that said, in part: “Any claim of a climate change influence on increasing disaster loss totals to date is simply unfounded and in contradiction to the international scientific evidence.”
The changes to the commission came as the government pursued plans to wind up the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation, created by Labor to fund renewable energy projects that would otherwise struggle to get commercial backing.
The Coalition has written to the chair of the corporation instructing that no further loans be written. Environment groups have claimed legal advice shows that executive government does not have the authority to direct the CEFC to cease operating.
But Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said yesterday the corporation had ceased payments while the incoming government prepared legislation to dismantle the scheme.
“The board of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation has been in touch with the government to advise us that they had indeed paused the writing of new loans,” Mr Cormann yesterday told Sky News.
The Greens have pledged to block the wind-up of the CEFC.
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