Government gives the green light to act on climate change

By Kylie Wilson-Field
Thursday, 17 July, 2008


Last November, when the Rudd government swept to power, one of its campaign policies was that it understood and accepted the scientific evidence that climate change was man made and that serious efforts to address it were needed, particularly for Australia, which had lagged behind the rest of the world under the Howard government’s inaction.

The long awaited day when we would all know which path we were heading down has arrived. Before a packed National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday, Senator Penny Wong delivered the government’s green paper on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

“The time for action is now, she said. “We confront a daunting reality: we cannot continue to pour carbon pollution into the atmosphere as if there is no cost.
“As one of the hottest and driest continents on earth, Australia’s economy and environment will be one of the hardest and fastest hit by climate change if we don't act now.

“At the heart of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is emissions trading, in which the government sets a limit on how much carbon pollution industry can produce, and then the government sells permits up to that limit, creating an incentive to look for cleaner energy options.”

Senator Wong said this was the most efficient, lowest cost and most economically responsible way to reduce carbon pollution, but any move to tackle climate change was not without costs.

“The government will ensure that every cent raised from the selling of permits will be used to help households and businesses as they make the move to a clean energy future.”

The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme will be implemented in 2010 and will form part of a whole of economy reform on par with past economic reforms such as the reduction in tariffs or deregulation of the financial system.

“Placing a limit and a price on pollution will change the things we produce, the way we produce them and the things we buy. It will open new doors to a cleaner energy future,” said Senator Wong.

Business groups like Environment Business Australia (EBA), a not-for-profit organisation that has no political ties, have welcomed the government’s green paper saying that the confirmation of the 2010 commencement was very important to investors and to technology developers.

“It’s time for planning, architecture and strategy to address the bigger picture and the government has clearly indicated  that we must stop tinkering at the edges of the problems we face. This is the incentive business needs to get on with doing what business does best — innovating and creating wealth," said Fiona Wain, CEO.

“If there is one area that Australia, Europe, North America, China and India are all agreed on, it is that we need full-scale deployment of clean energy, clean technology and energy-efficiency measures. That is an important point of agreement as we tackle climate change, water shortages and environmental degradation.”

Wain believes that it is very useful that the Garnaut draft report and the green paper have been released close together as this gives business the opportunity to address the upside of both and to investigate with the government how energy efficiency and renewable energy can buffer against rising oil, gas and coal prices, while building the new ‘cleantech’ sector which Wain says will form the basis of economics going forward.

“Australia’s traditional low energy prices are disappearing fast in the face of peak oil and energy security. These new costs will seep into all commodities and no part of the supply chain will remain unaffected. Smart action today can help buffer these prices and reduce the amount of climate change damage,” she said.

But not all those in the environment sector welcomed the green paper. Jeff Angel, executive director of the Total Environment Centre, a not-for-profit environmental watchdog organisation, said that the Rudd government’s green paper will dilute efforts to tackle global warming, which he believes will weaken the government’s green credentials.

“There are some good elements but gaping holes that could severely damage the national effort on climate change, he said.

“Polluting industries such as coal-fired power stations, energy-hungry smelters and land clearing get favoured treatment. This is a recipe for a scheme standing on weak legs.”

Angel says that the coal power generators have run a scare campaign and the Rudd government has fallen for it.

“The real intent is to stop Australia making the big shift from dirty coal power to clean, green power. It is also surprising that while reafforestation gets a guernsey for carbon credits, the other side of the coin — removal of trees — does not attract a carbon penalty. Add in the millions of dollars of free permits to be given to trade-exposed industry like aluminium smelters, and the ‘virtual’ non-inclusion of petrol and you have a scheme that is already in need of repair, he said.

“Equal or stronger good elements are hard to find. The fact that there is no ‘soft start’ as suggested by Professor Garnaut could be good, but then the government might have a low carbon cap instead. In the absence of information about the 2020 target, it's hard to give the scheme a tick.”

 

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