Why The Greens did not support the ETS

August 06, 2010

The ALP has done an excellent job in duping the wider community into believing that The Greens have prevented this country from moving forward to address climate change. Meanwhile neither the ALP nor the Coalition has been able to to end its love affair with coal and Federal and State governments are continuing to approve more coal-fired power stations and more coal mines.

By the time the Government wanted The Greens’ vote on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), the scheme had been watered down by big business and the Opposition to such an extent that it would not have reduced carbon emissions in Australia.

In outlining the process leading up to the failure of the Bill to pass through the Senate, Tony Kevin in his book Crunch time explains “it emerged the next day that companies risked losing $12 billion worth of free carbon permits they had negotiated with the government if the legislation were not passed in 2009, before Copenhagen.”(1) These carbon credits were all to be funded by the tax-payer.

The Greens wanted to negotiate with the ALP on the scheme, but the ALP refused. The 5% carbon pollution reduction targets were weak and the scheme was corrupted by lavish compensation payments and subsidies to big emitters. The Greens maintained, and still do, that we need a scheme that makes polluters pay, not households. A carbon tax has been part of our policy from the beginning and this tax is now being recognised by an increasing number of economists and others to have the potential to be far more effective than an ETS.

Even Ross Garnaut now recognises, following the failure at Copenhagen to agree an international ETS, that a trading scheme is not the best way to reduce emissions.

Garnaut said on 22 July (2) that, without a comprehensive international ETS, an [Australian national]  ETS with a fixed carbon price—in effect, a form of carbon tax—is  now the best option. He added that a fixed carbon price is superior to a floating price within a [national] ETS,  ‘for as long as the policy is strongly disputed and liable to large fluctuations in political expectations that affect the value of  emission permits.’

In other words, he is supporting an interim Australian carbon tax – which is the policy that Bob Brown offered to Kevin Rudd after the failure of Copenhagen, and is still now offering to Julia Gillard.

All that a low-target ETS will do is simply shift the problem while penalising the less polluting countries by expecting them to hold back on their own development.

If The Greens had supported Labor’s pathetic 5% CPRS we would now be locked into an emissions trading scheme with only 5% pollution reduction targets, when the rest of the world is aiming for greater than 20% reductions, and a scheme that would punish taxpayers instead of rewarding them for changing their energy plans to renewable energy or installing solar panels.

The government has dropped climate action, and has even reduced solar funding by moving $220 million over to the “Cash for Clunkers” scheme instead. Meanwhile The Greens have been working hard to implement our compromise proposal of a carbon levy to start as soon as possible. The challenge now is for Labor to work with The Greens and introduce a scheme that will cut emissions and benefit ordinary people, not make taxpayers fund billions of dollars in compensation for wealthy resource companies.

Australia has the infamous distinction of being the highest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases in the developed world, due to the 720 million tonnes of global CO2 emissions that the world puts out by burning Australian-mined steaming coal. (3)

While our governments continue to fall prey to the lobbying of the coal industry, this record will hold, and we will have no hope of bringing about real action on climate change before its effects are irreversible and catastrophic.

There is no room for denialism in this debate. We have nothing to lose from reducing our dependence on coal and moving to 100% renewable energy by 2050, or even 2030. We will create thousands of jobs in the process, our air will be cleaner, our valuable farmland will be saved, our health will be better and our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be able to look back, and know we did our best, even if it took us a while to realise the urgency.

See also greensmps.org.au/content/greens-ets-carbon-levy-info-hub
Catherine Moore, Greens candidate for Eden-Monaro

(1) Crunch time, Tony Kevin, Scribe publications, 2009, p.30
(2)  Ross Garnaut, speaking at Melbourne University on 22 July, http://www.rossgarnaut.com.au/Documents/Ross%20Garnaut%20Carbon%20Capture%20Storage%2022%20July%202010%20v4.pdf
(3) Crunch time, Tony Kevin, Scribe publications, 2009, p.222

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