Thursday, May 07, 2009

Climate Change Australia: bad policy goes worse

Having Kevin Rudd as a Prime Minister has meant an era of management rather than leadership. Evidence is the revised but still tragic climate change policy: the Emission Trading Scheme is being delayed past the next election, emission prices are to be set at a low $10 per tonne, and industrial polluters are compensated even more.

Activist organisation GetUp! has the facts of the new policy. The Sydney Morning Herald gave an environment perspective and a political perspective on this change, which has been variously characterised as a backflip or a watering down of action over climate change.

The original plans were fundamentally flawed from an environmental perspective, such that Ross Garnaut, author of the government-commissioned report on the subject, said it might be better to hold off on implementation - in the hope that public pressure will yield better policy. Be careful what you wish for, Ross. Public opinion has had a long tradition of clamouring for contradictory outcomes, effectively leaving key issues up to those they vote for.

Rudd was juggling a number of balls over the issue: industry concerns (peak bodies had been holding the previous labour government to ransom on this specific issue, even before Kyoto), economic crisis, and pressure from environmental voices. That last was the weakest pressure, because traditionally the ALP has the environment vote in the bag (would you rather vote for something even more conservative, hey?). They also figured that the buildup of pressure on climate change remained weak despite the mammoth publicity over the last three years. Some justification for this view exists in the voting record at the last election, where green votes did not surge to reflect the apparent level of interest. Again, the public agrees there is a problem, but want "someone else" to do "something". How to break this toxic nexus? Same as ever, I guess: hope for good leadership, participate in public pressure (via GetUp!'s campaign, for example), and vote right. Political vision entails hard choices for the right reasons, and persuading the electorate to follow. Rudd was elected for a raft of reasons other than that, unfortunately. I have little confidence in anyone on Australia's political horizon (whilst holding judgment on Julia Gillard and Peter Garrett, who may well be hamstrung); fortunately, there remains hope in Obama.

06-Sep-09 Update:  Two important points I mention in a later post:
1) There is a truly evil effect of the government's plan: any attempts by individuals to reduce their carbon emissions is used to offset the burden of the large corporate polluters, thus rendering individual action worse than useless.
2) The original bill for the Emission Trading Scheme was knocked  back by the Senate; to date the government intends re-introducing it with little substantive change.

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