Editorial: Rudd, Garnaut and the climate challenge

Professor Ross Garnaut delivered his draft report examining the “impacts, challenges and opportunities” resulting from climate change to the federal and state governments on July 4. His recommendations will shape the Rudd government’s response to global warming.

The environment movement needs to respond—to expose the shortfalls of Garnaut’s “solution” and outline the real alternatives.

The centrepiece of Garnaut’s report is a recommendation that Australia adopts an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) by 2010. The Rudd government has all but committed to implementing some variation on an ETS by Garnaut’s deadline. It is also popular with leading business groups like the Australian Aluminium Council (see page 20 for an explanation of the ETS and other market “solutions”).

The influence of polluting industries over the creation of the system points to some of the key problems with Garnaut’s proposals. Garnaut’s draft report represents those in the ruling class that want to balance dealing with public concern about global with maintaining business as usual as far as possible.

An ETS relies on speculative measures to achieve reductions—allowing some businesses to “pay to pollute”. Even if these measures work, the reductions will only ever be minimal as there is no incentive to make the major infrastructure changes required.

Garnaut has argued for the inclusion of petrol and electricity in the ETS because these are two of the biggest areas in which emissions must be reduced. But implicit in this is, as Garnaut himself has acknowledged, is an argument that it is “consumers who will ultimately bear the cost of [the] carbon price”. In other words the working class is expected to bear a good deal of the cost of the transition away from a carbon intensive economy.

We must oppose the idea that all of us must bear the burden of fighting global warming. It is big business that has created the crisis that we are in, and it is big business that has to pay for the changes needed. If, as Garnaut recommends, most of the revenue from an ETS went into providing subsidies for low-income households, people would still be out of pocket as the cost of almost everything will rise. Not only would the standard of living drop—there would still only be a negligible investment in the kind of public infrastructure needed.

Sections of the environment movement think that that the introduction of an ETS is inevitable. They argue that we have to push for the best scheme possible and defend the idea of a trading scheme against the right.

It would be a mistake to let Rudd, Garnaut and Brendan Nelson set the terms of debate over global warming. There are real steps that Rudd could take immediately: the implementation of renewable energy sources, phasing out coal-fired power stations, providing funding for public transport infrastructure, forcing business to cut emissions—the list goes on. Fighting global warming needs rational government planning—not another tradable commodity.

Nelson has called for delay to implementing any kind of action plan, portraying the Liberals as the defenders of ordinary people who face growing bills. We can be under no illusion that Nelson has any concern about our standard of living. But opposing the Liberals’ reactionary politics does not translate to supporting the introduction of an ETS. If we are going to have a serious impact on the debate over climate change, we need to be clear that Garnaut’s ETS will not lead to a substantial cut in carbon emissions—and clear about what kind of alternative demands we need to raise.

The left of the climate movement is gathering in Newcastle for the Camp for Climate Action. The Camp is a big step forward—bringing activists from around the country together. But it has missed a big opportunity to unite around demands aimed at the Rudd government, focusing instead on coal exports.

This mistake is not terminal. Garnaut’s final review is due by September 30. Climate Camp provides a chance to coordinate responses around the country. If the movement ignores the debate about the Garnaut review and the ETS, the ideas being put forward by Rudd about how to solve climate change will not be challenged. This will make it harder to argue to get people involved in campaigning, because they think the government is already acting.

The campaigns against the privatisation of electricity in NSW (see page 5) and against the Victorian government’s plans for a new coal-fired power station in the Latrobe Valley are key, concrete challenges that we can unite around. Responding to the mainstream debate, and arguing for the real changes needed, is the crucial next step for the movement.


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