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Emissions trading: let’s get cracking (Adelaide Advertiser and Perth Sunday Times)

Australia is in the climate change firing line.

We are already experiencing water shortages, extended heatwaves, extreme bushfire seasons and the drying out of the lower Murray.

All the emerging climate science shows the world’s greenhouse emissions are increasing ahead of predictions made just two years ago and the impacts are hitting harder and faster.

It’s high time our politicians stopped squabbling and urgently got on with the job of tackling climate change.

The Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) was voted down in the Senate this week, but will be re-introduced later.

Meanwhile the Opposition has released modelling it says is the basis for a ‘greener, cheaper, smarter’ scheme.

The truth is both these proposals need some serious work to be environmentally effective.

Both plan to give way too much assistance to the big polluters.

Under the current version of the CPRS the most polluting industries would get up to 95 per cent of their carbon permits for free.

A company like Rio Tinto (which declared a $12.2 billion profit last year) would get $565 million worth of free permits in the first full year of the scheme, or $2.8 billion over the first five years.

Under the proposal championed by the Opposition, big polluters would get 100 per cent of their permits free!

Neither scheme plans to invest enough of the permit revenue in cleaning up our economy and seizing the opportunity to create hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobs.

And neither scheme intends to invest enough in helping rural communities and environments prepare for climate change.

The Opposition says its plan would result in an unconditional 10 per cent cut in Australia’s emissions by 2020 (measured against 2000 levels). This commitment, like the Government’s unconditional 5 per cent domestic target for reducing emissions, is inadequate.

Government and Opposition have announced conditional targets to reduce emissions by 25 per cent by 2020 if there is a global agreement to stabilise carbon pollution in the atmosphere at 450 parts per million.

While this is a significant step forward and improves the chances of a good outcome at the critical UN negotiations in Copenhagen in December, it still leaves us at the bottom of the 25–40 per cent range recommended for countries like Australia by the world’s top climate scientists.

As they stand, both proposals need some serious renovation.

Both should cut the compensation for big emitters.

Both should strengthen national emission targets and make the schemes flexible enough to respond to emerging climate science.

And Federal Parliament should strengthen and pass legislation to require 20 per cent of our electricity to come from renewable energy by 2020.

Strong climate laws here at home will show we are prepared to walk the talk when we go to Copenhagen seeking an effective successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

And it’s a strong global agreement that will give us the best chance to avoid the worst of climate change.

It’s time we got cracking.

Don Henry is executive director of the Australian Conservation Foundation