Rudd’s reintroduction of his emissions trading legislation in parliament is a stunt designed to keep the pressure on a divided Liberal Party. His CPRS will not be passed before the election—and that is a good thing.
The government is now pushing the modified, business-friendly version of the scheme negotiated with Malcolm Turnbull.
Abbott’s newly released climate plan is even friendlier to polluters. It received an immediate thumbs up from the Australian Coal Association. That Abbott’s plan is premised, like Rudd’s, on achieving a pathetic 5 per cent cut in emissions, reveals how useless Rudd’s scheme really is.
Rudd’s failure to stand up to the polluters has given Abbott space to shift the whole climate debate to the right, and boosted the climate sceptics (see page 5). The CPRS is designed to maintain Australia’s reliance on heavy polluting industries. Treasury department modelling confirms that it will not force a single coal power station to close. In fact, as soon as it passes, we are likely to see confirmation of two new coal power plants planned for NSW, and others in Queensland and Victoria. Its introduction would provide certainty that the dirtiest forms of power will remain the most profitable.
The defeat of the scheme provides an opportunity for the climate movement to bury it for good and pile pressure on Rudd to get serious on climate. But the absence of opposition to the CPRS from the climate movement has confused things further.
Much of the climate movement has fallen behind the Greens call for an interim carbon price set at $20 a tonne. This is an attempt to force Rudd back into parliamentary negotiations. But it rests on the same approach as Rudd’s CPRS, albeit without so many handouts to big business.
It would not provide nearly enough penalty on the use of fossil fuels like coal and gas to make renewable energy competitive.
This would require jacking up the carbon price—which means imposing a huge cost burden on ordinary people. It is vulnerable to just the same attack as Abbott has made on the CPRS—that it would be a big new tax on households.
Fear of Abbott, and the series of recent scandals about climate science engineered by the sceptics, will tempt some to go quiet on criticisms of Rudd.
For years the big oil companies have funded a campaign by a tiny number of sceptics and deniers.
But the debate has shifted against them. The “Global Climate Coalition”, a notorious climate sceptic lobby group funded by fossil fuel corporations, was abandoned by Shell, BP and Ford as long ago as 2000.
Abbott does not dare to openly say that nothing should be done on climate.
Even he understands that action on climate change remains popular. According to a Nielsen poll in November 65 per cent of voters support some sort of emissions trading scheme, (wrongly) seeing this as action on climate.
Morgan poll shows that climate scepticism may be clawing back. The percentage that thought claims about global warming were exaggerated has risen from 13 per cent in 2006 to 31 per cent in January 2009. Those who agreed warming was happening fell from 82 per cent to 66 per cent. But that is still a comfortable two-thirds majority that agree climate change is real.
One reason for this shift is that governments’ preferred solutions like emissions trading and carbon taxes will threaten living standards.
It underscores the problem with “carbon pricing” under an emissions trading scheme or carbon tax—that ordinary people will be made to pay the cost.
By James Supple