Climate change policy

Isn’t Australia’s contribution to global emissions too small to matter?

No. As a country we are one of the highest emitters per head. Together, the countries in the group that emit about the same as us add up to around 40% of global emissions.

If we don’t act, why should we expect these other countries to? And do we really accept – or expect our leaders to accept – that “what we do in Australia doesn’t matter”, on this any more than on other issues?

Could we benefit economically by doing more on climate issues?

Yes. As well as having much to lose if we are slow to act, we have much to gain economically from action. We have here some of the world’s leaders in solar power research, for example. More support and investment in this work would pay big dividends.

Could we benefit in our region of the world by doing more on climate issues?

Yes. Our Pacific neighbours include poor countries critically threatened by sea level rise, and by other climate change issues. They know as well as we do that these issues have been caused by the emissions that gave industrialised countries like Australia much of our prosperity.

What do we expect them to think of Australia cutting its aid budget, and going backwards on climate policy?

After Tony Abbott (in another one of his schoolboy interjections) made what he thought was a joke in Parliament about carbon pricing in Tuvalu, and Tuvalu sinking into the ocean (yes, he really did …), Kevin Rudd as Foreign Minister in February 2012 said

for the people in the climate change small island states, this is not a joke .

You mightn’t have read that in many Australian newspapers, who were mostly busy reporting other aspects of political theatre at the time. But they did notice around the Pacific. Here’s a more recent story from our Pacific neighbours, from February 2014:

In November, Japan, Canada and Australia backtracked on their ‘emission-reduction targets’, signed under the Kyoto Agreement. It is with Australia though that there exists most acrimony. Australia “shares the same ocean as our island nations and is a big brother to the Pacific,” says Koreti and therefore it “makes no sense that they would contribute so greatly in destroying the environment. It’s unacceptable that given the irrefutable evidence of the harm caused by carbon emissions, Australia would not help.”

Shouldn’t we wait for other countries to act first?

No. This is a favourite for those wanting to delay climate action, but it has been rejected over and over again by experts, from Peter Shergold’s report for the Howard Government, to Ross Garnaut’s more recent work, to the Climate Change Authority.

Most countries–and all the major emitters – are acting now, and we need to do our share. Here’s what Australia’s Department of the Environment still had on its website as of January 2014:

Many countries–and all the major emitters–are acting now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Countries have started this transformation to take advantage of the opportunities stemming from the next stage of global development that will be powered by clean energy.

A broad range of countries have introduced, or are planning, market based emissions trading schemes and carbon taxes. Australia’s top five trading partners–China, Japan, the United States (US), the Republic of Korea and Singapore–and another eight of our top twenty trading partners (New Zealand, the UK, Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Canada) have implemented or are piloting carbon trading or taxation schemes at national, state or the city level.

Many countries have renewable energy targets, including fifteen of Australia’s top twenty trading partners. Energy performance standards for appliances, buildings and industrial plants, as well as incentives for the use and development of low emission products and technologies are now widespread.

Why should countries like Australia limit their emissions when developing countries are increasing theirs?

It just isn’t true that developing countries aren’t acting.

China’s growth in coal use has almost stopped already, for example, to the point where investment in big new coal mines here could quickly become very risky financially. In 2013 alone China installed 12 gigawatts of solar panels, equalling in one year the total installed so far by the US. In 2014 China plans to instal another 14 gigawatts of solar.

Developing countries also rightly point out that the countries which industrialised first have benefited the most from fossil fuel based development, and have contributed most of the CO2 in the atmosphere. One estimate is that for a global carbon budget consistent with 2oC, the USA passed its fair share back in 1936, while China wouldn’t get there at the current rate until 2050. Even if we ruled a line and started from 2000, a fair share of a 2 degree carbon budget would see the US stop net emissions completely by 2025.

How long has Labor been committed to action on climate change?

Labor’s platform has included a commitment to action on climate change since 1998 (credit there to Kim Beazley and his team, and particularly to Anthony Albanese).

Labor leader Kevin Rudd initiated the Garnaut Review from opposition in 2007, to be ready to act in government.

Labor’s first act in government in 2007 was ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. (One of the Abbott Government’s first acts by contrast was to sack the Climate Commission by telephone.)

Labor took a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme to Parliament in 2009; took a commitment to act on climate change to the 2010 elec2tion; got the Clean Energy Bills through Parliament in 2011; and is defending Australia’s clean energy legislation against Tony Abbott’s wrecking now.

Didn’t Julia Gillard promise not to introduce a carbon price?

No, she didn’t. Just because Tony Abbott says (now) that an emissions trading scheme is the same as a tax, doesn’t make it true.

Just because Mr Murdoch’s press prints something, or Alan Jones or other shock jocks say something, doesn’t make it true.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard ruled out introducing a carbon tax (which was the policy of the Greens political party). Her Government introduced an emissions trading scheme (which had also been Liberal policy until Tony Abbott took over) with a short initial fixed price period to provide stability for industry, as the Garnaut Review had recommended, and as was and is Labor policy.

What’s in the Clean Energy legislation?

The Clean Energy legislation provides for:

  • A carbon price on emissions by big polluters – with a fixed price initially to provide certainty, moving automatically after 3 years to a cap and trade scheme
  • Establishment of the Climate Change Authority with functions including advising on pollution caps
  • Polluters being able to meet up to half their liabilities with international permits
  • Assistance for trade exposed industries
  • Clean energy investment including establishment of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation
  • Tax cuts and pension increases to offset costs flowing from carbon pricing.

What policy on carbon pricing did Labor take to the 2013 election?

For the 2013 election, Labor proposed moving forward the transition from a fixed carbon price period to a flexible emissions trading scheme, from July 2015 to July 2014. This is the policy that Labor members and Senators are defending in Parliament.

What are Australia’s existing emissions reduction commitments?

Australia committed at the Copenhagen Accord negotiations to an unconditional reduction of 5% reduction below 2000 emission levels by 2020. Australia also committed to reductions of from 15% to 25% reductions on 2000 levels by 2020 depending on the extent of international action. Australia has also committed to 80% reductions by 2050.

When are these commitments due for review?

The Climate Change Authority presented its report to Government in February 2014, including advice on revising Australia’s emission reduction targets. Labor Senators (along with most non-government Senators) have successfully resisted Tony Abbott’s shameful attempt to abolish the Climate Change Authority before it could deliver its crucial independent report.

Should Australia increase its emissions reduction targets?

The Climate Authority has now delivered its report. It

  • found that Australia’s conditions for moving beyond 5% to 15% reductions by 2020 have been met
  • found that maintaining a 5% target for emissions reductions to 2020 is not a credible start toward achieving internationally agreed goals to try to limit global warming to an average 2 degrees
  • recommended a 2020 target of a minimum of 19% (based on 15% plus another 4% carried over from Australia’s Kyoto commitments)
  • recommended a 2030 target of between 40% and 60% below 2000 levels.

Labor’s leadership has said they’ll respond seriously to the final report of the Climate Change Authority (which Labor put in place) which was delivered at the end of February 2014. Tony Abbott’s government is refusing even to review emissions targets until 2015.

Many people with expertise in the area have also said that the critical time is right now; that Australia needs to move much further than reductions of 5% by 2020; and that the conditions set by Australia in international commitments for moving beyond this minimum reduction have clearly been met.

For example, the Climate Institute says:

Stronger emission targets are justified not only by advances in international action and the risks to Australia from even moderate levels of climate change but also by the high economic costs and risks of delaying deeper emission cuts until after 2020.

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