Queensland needs effective climate change action following LNP reign

SCOTT LOSEE THE COURIER-MAIL FEBRUARY 16, 2015 12:00AM

AT THE fall of the Bligh government, it was not unexpected the Office of Climate Change, headed by the then premier’s partner, would be a target for the incoming LNP.

In fact, the new government obliterated the office and anything connected with climate change, including the Queensland Climate Change Centre of Excellence.

Back then, the carbon tax pushback raged, with its thinly veiled denial of climate science.

Peter Costello’s Commission of Audit lined up individual climate change programs and the LNP backed him, dispersing staff to unrelated activities or terminating their careers.

A sign this was a political, rather than fiscal, action was that several of the eliminated programs were revenue-positive.

No longer would agencies report to Parliament on their energy use. Money-saving energy efficiency initiatives for hospitals, schools and offices were scuttled.

Strange thinking persisted, such as forcing Moreton Bay Regional Council to remove a prudent 80cm allowance for sea level rise in its planning scheme. In the bureaucracy, references to climate change were practically forbidden.

This is not to say that all was rosy in climate change policy in the Queensland Government in 2012. Ironically, a considered refocusing was imperative.

The Office of Climate Change was poorly led and politicised. Policy documents were mostly dressed-up existing commitments. Initiatives followed the hobbyist interests of insiders with limited or no regard for economic appraisal.

So what now? Annastacia Palaszczuk has led the ALP back to power after the electorate rejected anti-environmentalism and the rubberstamping of large developments, and has demanded that everything reasonable be done to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

The new Government cannot afford to start by restructuring and re-employing public servants en masse. Nonetheless, it can declare climate change to be non-heretical and ground policy in science and economics, rather than prejudice and pet projects.

While Queensland cannot stop climate change, it can plan for and invest in adaptation. We have 7000km of coastline. Our wealth comes from natural resources that are subject to nature’s vagaries. Who gains from pretending our future is not at risk?

Sound climate policy can support the evolution of how we generate and use energy. If managed well, retaining energy assets provides opportunities to embrace innovations such as smart grids, which promise affordable, low-impact, long-term energy, rather than engineered low prices in the short term.

The more deeply rooted question lies with the conflict between Queensland’s economic reliance on coal production and the growing desire of global markets and foreign governments to find less-polluting forms of energy.

The time may not have arrived for wholesale economic restructuring to overcome this conflict, but it will and we need a government that understands these issues.

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