Showing posts with label emissions trading scheme. Show all posts
Showing posts with label emissions trading scheme. Show all posts

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Australia's gone cold on climate change action

"Is it just me or is it getting a bit balmy in here?"
Australia’s eastern seaboard is basking in a record-breaking stretch of warm days, two weeks out from the official start of winter. Everybody’s talking about the weather, but hardly anyone's mentioning the climate. As in - change, action, what are we doing? We’re the well-fed lobsters in the slowly boiling pot – screaming at the injustices of the budget to our hip pockets, analysing the nuances of a wink and ignorant of policy that sets out how we’ll play our part in averting a looming climate crisis (not using the term loosely).  

The budget is tough. It’s about heavy lifting, doing your bit and if you don’t, they’ll be not-so-subtle pressure applied to make sure you do – earn or learn, get a job or work for the dole, type of thing. But curiously, the one policy area where sticks would work more effectively than carrots doesn’t have any. Climate change. The Artic ice cap is melting at record levels. Local councils across the country are modelling the impact on sea rises on their coastal communities. Businesses are factoring in the impact of climate change into their strategic plans. But the Government is silent. And as a society, we’re complicit.

In his 3500-word Budget speech, Joe Hockey did not mention ‘climate’ once. In fact, he neglected to allude to any policies regarding ‘Direct Action’, the Coalition’s policy on climate change. The plan is to establish the Emissions Reductions Fund to pay big emitters to build new 5-star energy rated offices, or something. Who would know? The Government will also plant 20 million trees, which will supposedly drink in all the carbon from the atmosphere. Where are these trees going and who’s planting them? The Coalition rarely talks about its Direct Action policy, because we’ve given up holding them to account on climate change.

They’ve also appointed climate skeptic, Dick Warburton, to review Australia’s previously committed to Renewable Energy Target. I don’t mean to be skeptical about a skeptic, but I doubt he’s going to recommend we stick to the current target, let alone a higher one. “China’s making more mess!” will come the inevitable argument.

Some days it’s hard not to feel sorry for Malcolm Turnbull, the man who staked his Opposition leadership on supporting the former Rudd Government’s push for an Emissions Trading Scheme, and lost, watching the whole war on climate change be abandoned shortly afterwards. In 2010, Turnbull  told Parliament, “Climate change is the ultimate long-term problem. We have to make decisions today, bear costs today so that adverse consequences are avoided, dangerous consequences are avoided many decades into the future.”

It’s laughable to think how far away Australians now are from the idealistic, passionate commitment to climate change that existed only a few short years ago. Before the 2007 election, Kevin Rudd declared, “Climate change is the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time.” And then the economic grim reaper – the GFC – killed off efforts to do anything other than focus on getting people out buying white goods again.

“Even Howard…” is a phrase used at the moment to compare Abbott’s performance against that of his self-reported political idol. Well, “even Howard” kicked off Australia’s climate change action in 2007 by laying the groundwork for an emissions trading scheme.

Meanwhile in the US, the Obama administration has just released a very slick, comprehensive study titled the National Climate Assessment. The President is on the road debating its findings with television weather forecasters, because despite their lack of scientific credentials, 62 per cent of Americans trust them on climate change far more than they do climate scientists.  
While Tony Abbott stands with smirking lips beside state Premiers, declaring himself the Infrastructure Prime Minister, President Obama is determined his legacy will be to finally do something meaningful about his country’s contribution to climate change.  The Australian Government is preparing to skittle the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, each of which was designed to promote, regulate and remove barriers to high polluters switching to clean energy and which were already contributing to a reduction in emissions.
Next month, the US Environment Protection Agency will launch the most dramatic anti-pollution regulation in a generation, with a sweeping crackdown on carbon. While our government throws our cash at dirty polluters hoping they’ll come up with something novel, Obama is forcing the behavioural change, because sometimes, tough love is what’s needed. Perhaps this is one of the advantages of knowing you can’t run for a third term in the US – short-sighted, politically motivated parochial interests give way to a desire to leave a legacy that will endure for generations beyond.
In his Budget speech, Hockey finished by saying, “As Australians, we must not leave our children worse off. That’s not fair. That is not our way.” He could have been talking about climate action.
But he wasn’t.
Diana Elliott.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Climate change: the disastrous consequences of political short-sightedness

This piece originally appeared online at SMH on 6 November 2013. 
Like John Howard, Liberty was frozen in time

On Tuesday, John Howard addressed a gathering of British climate change sceptics. He accused the United Nations' climate panel, the IPCC, of including “nakedly political agendas” in its advice and then explained his government proposed an emissions trading scheme in 2006 in the face of a political perfect storm on the issue. He also said “…the high tide of public support for over-zealous action on global warming has passed.” And on that score, he's right.

Lately, when I hear our politicians discussing the climate, I can't get the images from the otherwise largely forgettable The Day After Tomorrow out of my head. It's a movie that takes a few creative liberties in showing the devastation that happens when polar ice melts due to global warming. 

The unsalted water from the glacier dilutes the ocean, causing the climate to change rapidly. Weird stuff starts to happen, like helicopters freezing solid in mid-flight and a massive flood in New York where Jake Gyllehaal huddles in the library with his friends. And then Jake's dad (Dennis Quaid) – one of the scientists who is not being heard – rescues him and their estranged relationship and the storm passes and the world thaws and, we're like, phew, glad that's over. And we don't just mean the storm.

But the point of the movie was politicians put their shortsighted economic and political interests first, with disastrous consequences.

Howard's is just the latest example in a long list. Watching Tony Abbott bat away suggestions that climate change is contributing to the frequency and ferocity of bushfires with suggestions that the UN Climate Change Chief is “talking out of her hat” and it's all “complete hogwash” fills me with the same sense of foreboding I get watching those disaster movies. He merrily goes on, posing for a pic opp with a fire hose and razing the carbon price, the Climate Change Authority and the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC).

Interviewed recently on ABC's 7.30 program, Al Gore diplomatically avoided scoffing at the Coalition's plan, but reinforced the view that an emissions trading scheme, which drives change towards cleaner, more efficient energy sources is the preferred route. Gore, the mastermind of the most compelling PowerPoint presentation of all time in his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, believes people power is the only way to combat the obvious conflicts that exist between political and business interests and the climate. He likened it to the pressure brought upon politicians by cigarette companies trying to sully the link between smoking and lung cancer.

“I think the public has a role in this and has a voice to be heard,” said Gore. “In the US, we had Hurricane Sandy, which was devastating - US$60 billion in damages and it caused a dramatic change in the message the public was sending to politicians in both parties.” Is it going to take a disaster of that magnitude for Australians to stand up and be heard? I hope not.

A short four years ago, Australia was reeling from the Black Saturday bushfires, in which a record number of people lost their lives in a raging inferno that followed a two-month, unprecedented heat wave. In 2011, Queensland and Victoria were inundated with floods. Climate change seemed palpable. It was happening all around us and even as skeptics brushed them off as cyclical events, we shifted uneasily in our seats and wanted something to be done.

Now, Abbott, with his trademark appeal to our hip pockets and self-interest (“Electricity Bill” – haw haw haw! Good one Tones!) is trying to have us believe that as long as our light bills go down, the world will be a better place.
Abbott's Direct Action policy means he'll dish out a confusing goodie-bag of treats to polluters to help them change their dirty habits.That's like handing an alcoholic $50 and asking him to spend it on green leafy vegetables.

Hollywood end-of-days disaster movies often depict bureaucrats or other people with power making self-centred decisions, usually to further their own interests, throwing the lives of others into peril.

Unless Australians stand up and demand a real solution (not the Coalition's Real Solution) to climate change, we could all be archival fodder for future generations. In a world ravaged irrevocably by warming, they may watch a darkly comic moment in a movie where an Environment Minister trusts Wikipedia over scientists, and leave shaking their heads. “What idiots they were to not act when they had the chance…”