An unholy alliance of carbon producers and Big Gas lobbyists are quietly shaping Australia’s emissions reduction framework to maximize their take on taxpayers’ money while increasing emissions as much as possible. Callum Foote follows the money.
It’s a perfectly devious plan by the cabal of powerful fossil fuel corporations, greenwashing that gives the appearance of action on the climate and emissions front while increasing emissions and subsidies for a declining industry.
Australia’s main policy for tackling climate change and achieving net zero emissions is the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF). New research from the Australia Institute shows that the ERF is operated by a close-knit group of carbon producers and the oil and gas industry. At the heart of these personalities is Grant King, former CEO of Origin Energy and dean of the Australian gas sector.
Grant King and Susie Smith, CEO of the Australia Industry Greenhouse Network and former Santos executive, were asked to lead a review of the ERF by Energy Minister Angus Taylor. The review resulted in 20 recommendations with the aim of accelerating the accreditation of carbon credits.
These recommendations, which were accepted by the federal government, contributed to a carbon crediting regime of low quality and poor integrity, leading to higher emissions rather than lower emissions, according to the Australia Institute.
Smith and King were appointed Chair and Member of the Climate Change Authority (CCA), respectively, in 2021. The CCA conducts periodic reviews of the ERF.
Polly Hemming, one of the Australia Institute researchers who authored the report, said “appointments to these ‘nominally independent’ government bodies ranged from perceived conflict to potential violation of relevant legislation. The bodies regulatory and statutory bodies should be independent of the industries they oversee.
“Yet in the case of the ERF, industry seems to be actively invited to design and shape policy that benefits it.”
Benefits of GreenCollar collars
King is also a board member of GreenCollar, the largest carbon aggregator operating in Australia.
The carbon market is made up of carbon aggregators who create carbon credits by signing contracts with farmers or waste collectors either not to carry out harmful polluting activities or to sequester carbon through specific processes such as controversial and widely discredited carbon capture and storage (CCS).
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Carbon aggregators want to make it as easy as possible to create and sell carbon credits despite the amount of carbon actually saved by large emitters such as the oil and gas industry. Industry wants carbon credits to be as cheap as possible so they can achieve their paper-based net zero commitments as cheaply as possible while growing their dirty business.
However, these same carbon aggregators were closely involved in the design of the ERF.
Main carbon culprits
The largest carbon aggregators operating in Australia are GreenCollar, Corporate Carbon/AgriProve and Climate Friendly.
Together, these companies fund an industry group called the Carbon Market Institute (CMI) which works closely with the Clean Energy Regulator to design new carbon credits.
CMI is also funded by the largest oil and gas players operating in Australia. Companies such as Woodside, Energy Australia, AGL, Inpex, BP Shell and Origin are paying members of the industry body.
In an unusual twist, the CER and the Ministry of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources maintain a close financial relationship by sponsoring events organized by CMI and paying the organization to run ” education and training services” on his behalf. The Institute received $700,000 for these services, according to Austender.
The ERF was co-opted and designed alongside the businesses and industry organizations that will benefit the most from the $4.5 billion taxpayer-funded program.
CMI declined to respond to a request for comment.
Beyond Grant King, the influence of fossil fuels on emissions reduction policy is not limited to close consultation with government, but in fact who makes up the executive roles in our key regulators.
Another regulatory body that closely monitors the ERF is the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee. The assurance committee that was created to ensure the integrity of the ERF was also stacked with fossil fuel executives.
The Australian Institute found that these nominations included David Byers, former senior executive of the Minerals Council of Australia, BHP and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA), and Brian Fisher, a long-time consultant to fuels industries fossils and former head of the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics (ABARE).
Under Fisher’s leadership, ABARE’s climate policy economic modeling was overseen by a steering committee that included the Australian Coal Association, Australian Aluminum Council, BHP, Exxon and other fossil fuel interests.
Kate Vigden, former chairwoman of major oil and gas producer Quadrant Energy, was appointed to the board of the Clean Energy Regulator in May 2021.
Polly Hemming wonders about the lack of regulation on these appointments: “There is legislation that explicitly says that individuals should not engage in gainful employment that conflicts or may conflict with the proper performance of their duties. Obviously the government has determined that being employed by the same industry you regulate or advise on is not a problem, but I seriously wonder if the taxpayer would be comfortable with that arrangement as well if he knew all the details.
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