A Plan B for emissions reductions?

Plan B, a program for immediate action to reduce emissions across all sectors of the Australian economy, was recently released by a coalition of environment groups, including Environment Victoria, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, The Wilderness Society, and various conservation councils.

As the document states in its introduction, it is a response to the government’s “fundamentally flawed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme”. So far so good—if the climate movement is going to succeed, it must be able to explain what’s wrong with the government’s policies and to articulate an alternate vision.

Plan B is a welcome attempt at this. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go nearly far enough. It goes some way to showing what is possible without a CPRS, but fails to look beyond market mechanisms and private industry for solutions.

In fact, Plan B doesn’t rule out carbon pricing—it calls for a “better CPRS” to sit alongside the proposed measures in Plan B. None of the measures in the report that would work require carbon pricing, nor does the document articulate what exactly a better CPRS would be, or why it’s needed.

So why the concession? It seems that politically, the groups are not prepared to challenge the logic of carbon trading and the neo-liberal ideology that backs it up.

Political hesitancy

Many of the environment groups behind the plan are involved in the grassroots climate movement, and can see some possibility of the movement forcing Rudd to deliver more than is currently being offered.
Therefore their vision of what is politically possible goes much further than conservative environment groups like the Australian Conservation Foundation.

But political hesitancy still runs throughout the plan. Rather than start from what we actually need to do to fully solve the problem, the plan stops at what the authors perceive to be politically possible.

Plan B does call for a moratorium on new coal-fired power stations and an end to all fossil fuel subsidies.

It calls for a doubling of the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target to 40 per cent by 2020, and to fix flaws in the scheme, like the inclusion of solar water heating as part of the target. This is good but unambitious. It still falls short of the aim of 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020 agreed upon by delegates at the national Climate Summit in January.

Grants to business?

The worst element is Plan B’s call for capital grants to businesses for large-scale renewable energy projects.

Many of the major companies involved in renewable energy are the same ones involved in dirty power. BHP made $US15.39 billion in profit last financial year—should it be given a capital grant? What happens when such companies decide that their fossil fuel interests trump their renewable interests and shut the renewable down like BP has recently done?

Historically it has taken direct government investment to build pretty much all major infrastructure in Australia, including the coal-fired power stations and the electricity grid. Part of the reason coal-fired power is currently cheaper than renewable is that the infrastructure, paid for with tax dollars, is already built.

Privatisation of electricity and transport has been a disaster that has allowed government to play a game of buck passing with private companies.

Private companies exist to further private interests, not to solve the climate crisis. Public ownership under democratic control would be more effective for the transition we need.

Other market mechanisms—like congestion charges, feed-in tariffs, green loans to individuals to retrofit houses, carbon offsets for landscape conservation, and tax concessions to retrofit commercial buildings—are scattered throughout the report and underscore the problems with its approach.

Plan B is a step forward but it still involves unnecessary compromises. Articulating effective solutions can’t be limited by the constraints of the market.

Real solutions must of necessity be for the benefit of the many, not for a select few. There is no question that the climate movement needs the support of broader forces—but the challenge is to get broader forces to support what actually needs to be done. Unless we do this we’ll find ourselves miles away from solving the climate crisis.

Beyond Zero Emissions’ Zero Carbon Plan has guiding principles that include: what actually needs to be done, using only currently available technology, while maintaining living standards and maintaining or enhancing social equity. Plan B would have done better to start from the same premises.
Find Plan B at this link.

By Chris Breen


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