Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sitting On The Fence Gives You Splinters

The debate over proposed carbon pollution emissions targets is becoming hotter than global warming itself. While Federal Climate Change Minister Penny Wong is representing Australia at talks in Poznan in Poland, pressure is mounting from both directions. Although Australia has not yet announced its targets for 2020, it is believed that a 25% reduction on 1990 levels is on the table subject to broader international agreement. In the absence of such agreement it appears that the Government is likely to commit to a much less ambitious target of 5% to 15%.

Both the Opposition and some sectors of Industry are pushing for any targets to be subject to international agreement, as well as calling for the planned 2010 starting date for an Emissions Trading Scheme to be delayed. And they’re not alone. Unions are also concerned about the impact on jobs if industries such as mining and construction are made to bear the brunt of emissions trading without a genuine international agreement.

The heat of the debate is such that Paul Howes of the Australian Workers Union has described Australia’s banks as hypocritical for their stand in favour of deep emissions cuts. He says that the banks, having participated in the global “stuff-up” of our financial system, are now seeking to create new sources of revenue from carbon trading markets. He’s right about that. Bankers and Lawyers have the most to gain out of any carbon trading scheme, whereas heavy industries such as mining have the most to lose.

Of course, the government is maintaining its line on the 2010 start date, insisting that business needs certainty. And while the government is yet to announce its emissions targets, that is also a decision which has almost certainly already been made and is unlikely to change. But while the Government is holding back that announcement until next Monday, the door is kept ever so slightly open for a last minute change of heart.

It has been reported that heavy pressure is being placed on Kevin Rudd by the likes of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore to commit to the more ambitious 25% reduction target. The suggestion is that for Australia to make that commitment now at Poznan will help to propel those negotiations to a successful conclusion. It’s all part of the negotiating process, but it does seem a little paradoxical that Kevin Rudd and Labor were elected amidst a blast of environmentalist fervor, ratifying the Kyoto protocol within minutes of being sworn in, only to go soft now.

More to the point, if the threat of Climate change is real, and the vast consensus now is that it is, then compromise positions are simply not going to cut the mustard. Why bother with a 5% or 15% target when all the expert opinion says that only targets of 25% or more have any hope of achieving the desired environmental outcome? Either the world must commit to a serious effort to achieve change, or there is no real point.

Settling for a compromise position will result in half measures which dramatically disrupt the economy for no real benefit, at the same time as failing to adequately address the climate change problem. But if the view is taken that the climate change problem is not so serious that it demands such drastic action, then the whole thing would seem to be a waste of time. Surely it is time to go hard, or go home.

The only thing you are likely to get from sitting on the fence is the risk of being skewered up the backside by a paling.

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