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Billions of dollars and a lost opportunity for the climate

30 March 2022 at 12:06 pm
Maggie Coggan
Climate groups say this year’s federal budget fails to deliver any meaningful spending on halting climate change 

Maggie Coggan | 30 March 2022 at 12:06 pm


Billions of dollars and a lost opportunity for the climate
30 March 2022 at 12:06 pm

Climate groups say this year’s federal budget fails to deliver any meaningful spending on halting climate change 

With no direct funding for renewables, and vague promises on long-term commitments for low emissions technologies, environmentalists say this year’s budget is a missed opportunity for any real climate action. 

Despite domestic and international criticism on Australia’s policies and targets on tackling climate change, the Morrison government has remained stubborn that the country is in fact playing its part in responding to the global challenge of climate change.

And during Tuesday night’s delivery of the 2022 federal budget, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg did not waver from this rhetoric. 

“Australia is on the pathway to net zero emissions,” Frydenberg said. 

He said that technology, not taxes, was the answer – committing $84 million over five years for microgrids to support regional and remote communities that didn’t otherwise have access to the grid with small‑scale renewable energy projects like solar and wind.

But just under $250 million over five years will go towards supporting investment in low emissions technologies including hydrogen, and $50 million is still being directed to accelerate polluting gas projects. 

Experts have also pointed out that creating hydrogen to use as a fuel source actually produces emissions, and while projects are being proposed and at various stages, it’s unclear how long it will take to reach the scale needed for hydrogen to be a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

As well as this, the budget included funding for a number of fossil projects across the country, including $300 million for liquefied gas and hydrogen production in Darwin, $50 million for gas infrastructure and studies in NSW, the NT, Queensland and Victoria, and $7.5 million for gas exploration in the Beetaloo Basin.

Throwing pennies at climate initiatives 

Leading economist and climate councillor, Nicki Hutley, calculated that just 0.3 per cent of total expenditure for 2021-2024 has been committed to climate change initiatives, falling even lower, to just 0.2 per cent in 2024-2026. 

She said much of the 0.3 per cent was funding already committed prior to this budget, with the 22/23 budget adding “virtually nothing” to that. 

“Rather than investing in a green economic future, the federal government has used tonight’s budget to toss mere pennies at genuine emissions reduction initiatives, such as the regional renewable microgrids,” Hutley said. 

Oceans and koalas win big, but at a cost 

An additional $1 billion was announced for “world-leading marine science” to build the Great Barrier Reef’s resilience to climate change, remove pest species and improve the reef’s water quality. 

Over $170 million for threatened species and habitat restoration, and tree planting projects was also announced, including $53 million dedicated to koala recovery and conservation.

The government also committed to a $192 million overhaul of environment laws which it said would “protect the environment, speed-up environmental law decisions, and improve transparency in project approvals.” 

Despite these commitments, advocacy organisations such as the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) said that this year’s budget was “as if the climate and extinction crises were not happening”. 

ACF’s economy and democracy program manager, Matt Rose, said that with parts of New South Wales under water, the Great Barrier Reef suffering its sixth mass bleaching event and koalas added to the endangered list, the budget’s priorities were out of whack with the massive challenges ahead.  

“While the government has allocated $50 million for koala conservation, it has loaned more than three times as much, $175 millio, to the Olive Downs coal mine in central Queensland and approved the clearing of around 5,000 hectares of koala habitat at the mine site,” Rose said. 

“And while the $1 billion over nine years for Great Barrier Reef conservation is welcome, contrast that with the billions being spent – every year – to encourage the growth of fossil fuel industries, which are smashing the reef via all-too-regular bleaching events.

“This budget treats nature like an optional extra, rather than what it really is: essential to our supply of clean air, healthy food, fresh water and a safe climate.”

Quinton Clements, head of policy at WWF-Australia, labelled the $100 million over three years to future-proof Australia’s landscapes, animals and plants as “woefully inadequate”. 

“This kind of figure reflects and perpetuates the dangerous and ill-conceived perception that investment in nature represents a trade-off on economic growth; when in fact the opposite is true,” Clements said. 

Our 2022 budget coverage is brought to you by Fifty Acres.

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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