Climate change has moved to the centre of Australian politics, and Rudd Labor’s climate opportunism is graphically on display. Having tried to lure Turnbull’s Liberals into voting for his CPRS by cutting the carbon price and offering to postpone it for a year, the Environment Minister Penny Wong is back to wooing The Greens.
The ACF and Climate Institute along with the ACTU, who once posed as leaders of the climate movement but so willingly sold their climate credentials to endorse Rudd’s amended scheme have been left with egg on their face as Rudd reopens negotiations with The Greens.
It remains to be seen whether The Greens will act on their climate principles this time. They are demanding that Rudd’s minimum target be lifted to 25 per cent, but have indicated a willingness to accept a version of the scheme with handouts to polluters and other loopholes intact.
But the parliamentary too-ing and fro-ing is a side show. The tragedy is that the climate movement is in danger of being dragged behind some version of the carbon trading scheme because it is unwilling to articulate and fight for an alternative.
There is an audience. When Rudd announced his watered-down policy it confirmed that the government’s main concern is keeping big polluting industries happy. There was widespread anger. Around 200 people turned up to an emergency protest in Sydney.
Hesitancy to oppose CPRS
Yet there is an ongoing hesitancy to openly campaign against the scheme. In Sydney, for example, climate activists building for the national climate emergency rally accepted the idea that “broad” slogans would result in a larger rally. Although the central issue for the future of the campaign is the CPRS, it is not the focus of the rally.
The government describes its emissions trading scheme as “the heart of our climate policies” and its key mechanism for meeting reduction targets. The CPRS will be used by Rudd to boost his government’s green credentials.
But carbon trading is an ineffective mechanism for reducing emissions. It has failed in Europe. As we explain elsewhere, Rudd’s carbon scheme is worse than useless. If the movement really believes that Rudd’s draft CPRS scheme should not become law, it is going to have to push much harder, and to carry the argument for direct government action.
The movement was almost silent in response to Rudd’s budget, where he thumbed his nose at the climate campaign. The government committed tens of billions to infrastructure projects—money that could have funded a serious move to renewable energy and created tens of thousands of jobs. But the government’s priorities are completely wrong—even as it announced $1.5 billion for a single solar power station, it threw double that amount into “clean coal” research.
The movement needs to press for immediate government action to begin the transition from coal-fired to renewable power.
After the national climate emergency rallies, the focus of most of the climate movement will be on the Copenhagen summit in December. Copenhagen is the final meeting to negotiate a global climate agreement to replace the Kyoto protocol, which expires in 2012.
Many people are hoping that the meeting will produce a serious plan to reduce global emissions. The summit will not deliver one. Our global leaders are too mired in the system, too concerned to maintain their own nation’s competitive advantage to deliver any meaningful agreement. And any negotiations will be focused on greater international co-ordination of emissions trading, further consolidating the idea that market mechanisms can stop climate change.
The best Rudd’s scheme is offering is a 25 per cent reduction if Copenhagen comes up with an agreement to keep atmospheric carbon below 450 ppm. The latest science says that this isn’t anywhere near enough to stop the risk of runaway warming. Developing countries like China are asking rich nations to commit to at least 40 per cent reductions by 2020.
It is not what happens at Copenhagen that matters. We will only make a real difference when we have a climate movement in each individual country to fight for the change that is really needed. In Australia, this means targeting Rudd and his CPRS.
As long as the government’s climate strategy hinges on carbon trading it will be irrelevant to delivering emissions cuts.
How to campaign
We need a movement with clear political demands, opposing the CPRS and for immediate action on renewables.
We need to counter the claim that the climate movement is anti-jobs by taking the movement to the working class, linking the fight against climate change with the fight for green, safe jobs. While Rudd accepts that unemployment will rocket to 8 per cent and more in the coming year, the environment movement has an answer—new jobs in renewable energy industries. Opposing the billions being wasted on “clean coal” research does not mean dumping coal miners on the dole queue. Green energy does not have to mean increased power bills. The polluters can be forced to pay for the climate crisis.
The unions can also exert real power on the government. The sort of union bans that were put on exporting uranium in the past can be put on constructing new coal-fired power stations. We need to take the debate about the CPRS into the unions and set up union climate campaign groups. Union climate conferences, as has been suggested in Sydney, could help push this along.
We can learn from the experience of past environment movements. Just as the 1970s anti-uranium movement used direct action and built mass demonstrations to pressure the government, and win union bans, we can do the same.
The climate camps planned for later in the year can be one focus for direct action. But just as the campaign to stop uranium mining at Jabiluka targeted ERA (Rio Tinto) offices, action in the cities against the big polluters like BHP would enable larger numbers to be involved.
Over the next six months climate will remain at the centre of Rudd’s agenda as he tries to get a deal before Copenhagen. A majority of people want real action on climate change but unless the movement takes up the challenge, Rudd will set the agenda and the movement will not make much impact.
Climate is too important to be left to the politicians.