Coalition's Carbon Con Misses Long Term Targets

My op-ed in today’s Canberra Times says a carbon price has made a real and positive difference and Tony Abbott's carbon targets fall short.

Clouds over Climate Scheme, The Canberra Times, 1 October 2013

Media magnate Rupert Murdoch recently tweeted ‘Al Gore. Pls explain record increase in Arctic ice.’ Murdoch was responding to the finding from the National Snow and Ice Data Center that the minimum extent of Arctic ice rose this year from 3.4 to 5.1 million square kilometres. Alas, the average in the 1980s and 1990s was 6.7 million square kilometres. As Greenpeace’s Ben Stewart responded to Mr Murdoch: ‘It's like your papers’ circulation. Long term downward trend with occasional spikes’.

Cherry-pick the stats all you like, but the earth is warming. Australia has just had our hottest summer and one of our warmest winters, making the past twelve months the hottest on record. Early spring brought frightening bushfires. The fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms what is well understood and focuses our attention on the challenges ahead.

It is clearer than ever that humans are responsible for emerging changes in climate in the atmosphere, ocean, ice and land. The revised projections of sea level rises are a major concern as all of Australia’s major cities except Canberra are coastal.

In announcing the draft report, the IPCC chairman Rajenda Pachauri backed financial markets as humanity’s best hope in the battle against global warming. “An extremely effective instrument would be to put a price on carbon. It is only through the market that you can get a large enough and rapid enough response.”

So, as bizarre as Mr Murdoch’s rejection of the scientific evidence is Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s rejection of the economic evidence. On 16 September, Mr Hunt told the ABC’s PM program on 16 September that the carbon price “fundamentally doesn't do its work”. And yet the introduction of the carbon price has been accompanied by a 7 percent fall in emissions in the National Electricity Market.

Our energy mix has shifted toward renewables and cleaner fuels. In South Australia one quarter of all electricity is now generated by wind power. According to a ClimateWorks Australia survey, the carbon price had a significant impact on the decision-making of four in five industrial energy users.

What's more, the nonpartisan Climate Institute believes “the carbon price has had an undetectable impact on the nation's overall economic performance”. The economy is continuing to grow. Whyalla is doing well. Lamb roasts don’t cost $100.

When Labor introduced the carbon price, our modelling predicted that the impact on prices would be 0.7 percent, less than one-third the impact of the GST. Subsequently, Westpac modelling suggested that the impact had been smaller still – around 0.5 percent. The real risk to household budgets is the government’s Direct Action plan, which could cost upwards of $1200 per household. No wonder the Coalition didn’t submit Direct Action for costing by the Parliamentary Budget Office before the election.

And yet while soil magic and a green army will drive up household costs, the biggest con in the Coalition’s climate change plan is that it only lasts to the end of this decade.

The existing legislation has put in place a mechanism to cut emissions to 80 per cent of 2000 levels by 2050. The Coalition’s plan only lasts until 2020. A seven-year plan for dealing with climate change makes the Coalition’s ‘copper to the home’ NBN proposal look positively visionary by comparison.

Mr Abbott and his team speak a lot about business certainty. They should know that the best way to give businesses certainty is to provide a long-term framework. That means a framework for several decades rather than just seven years.

Without a longer term target, it is difficult for companies to know which technologies are worth investing in and which are not.

Edmund Burke said that conservative governments should have in mind past generations, those who are living today, and those who are yet unborn. If he is truly a conservative, Prime Minister Abbott should be calm and methodical about the challenge of climate change, and listen to the experts.

The time for ‘people’s revolts’ is over. Instead, Mr Abbott should recognise that at the last election, both Labor and the Coalition campaigned on a mandate to scrap the carbon tax. This means moving to a floating carbon price – capping carbon pollution – as quickly as possible. Labor will back a floating carbon price from 1 July 2014.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.