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blowing hot +speaking cool « Previous | |Next »
June 7, 2007

The debate in Australia about global warming and greenhouse emissions is largely a political one shaped by the forthcoming election. It has become one of slogans and messages from entrenched positions whilst the policy insights of Warwick McKibbin into the political compromises remain the background of the election year theatrics.


This black and white contest from within the middle ground is how our political culture works. The rhetoric works on the underlying emotions of the electorate, who are now sophisticated enough to analyze the messages in terms of the gap between what is being said and what is done. Politicians can blow hot and strong on global warming then spend their energy making sure little happens so as to protect the coal industry and heavy energy users.

Kenneth Davidson in an op-ed in The Age sums the debate up well:

Labor has emissions targets for 2050. They aren't much good without firm signposts along the way. The Coalition promises a cap-and-trade system without announcing the cap and promising free pollution permits to the biggest polluters.This is absurd. It is like a state government responding to public outcry about road carnage with a promiseto introduce speed cameras and booze buses without setting speed and blood alcohol limits first, and promising alcoholics fine rebates when the limits and penalties are decided.

The way the debate has been framed by the Coalition is just as bad:
Who do you trust most to manage the economy and deal with global warming? Give me a break. Howard doesn't seem to understand that without the environment there is no economy, that dealing seriously with climate change will provide opportunities for Australia to partake in a multibillion-dollar global industry.Labor recognises the environment bus is leaving the station, but Howard has spooked the Opposition into believing that if they make an open and honest run for it, a majority of voters will stay with the Government.

As Paul Kelly observes in The Australian Howard has trust on the economy but not climate change. So he seeks to redefine climate change as an economic issue, and so focus on the risks in emission reduction rather than the opportunities.

Howard has basically embraced the Bush position when he agreed that Australia would set an aspirational target for cutting emissions some time next year.For both Bush and Howard this first-time commitment to the principle of an (aspirational rather than mandatory) target involves postponing any decision on the size of any such target until after their next elections. It's self-regulation for the polluters.

McKibbin says that:

a promise to cut emissions whatever the cost, as with voluntary actions, lacks credibility. This is also the key problem with the present Labor Party platform of deep cuts by specific dates without knowing the costs. The Labor deep cuts easily can be implemented in the blueprint if the timetables are replaced by sensible ways of managing cost without destroying the credibility of the long-term target. ..The key to enhancing credibility of long-term carbon goals is found in the need to create long-term carbon permits equal to the long-term target. These long-term permits should be taken out of the hands of government and issued to key participants, then traded in a domestic carbon market to set a price of carbon into the long-term future.

He says that credibility is achieved by complete allocation of all long-term permits to all households and industry. At set times in the future (five-year steps) a maximum annual carbon price is announced for the next five years as a safety valve against spikes in carbon prices in case there are not enough long-term permits around in any year (but there is no cap on long-term carbon prices). Every five years a review of emissions is conducted and new bundles of permits of different duration are auctioned.

McKibbin adds that:

the Government should act in the national interest by making a stronger longer-term commitment to the goal of emissions reduction and thereby generate less long-term price uncertainty. Households should also receive a substantial allocation of longer-term permits. The Opposition should fold the taskforce ideas around its deep-cuts policy by implementing the deep cuts through a blueprint-style long-term permit allocation with a safety valve to manage the timing of cuts.

I doubt if we will see these ideas considered or taken up until after the election.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:19 AM | | Comments (2)


From the vantage point of "an ordinary person" I guess I should be clapping and cheering that Howard has discovered climate change.
But all I can see is that Howard is following Bush, in a tried and tested formula, i.e: "Say all the right motherhood things about global warming, but make sure to do nothing"
In this way, Howard might look good until the election.
Bush doesn't really need to look good, but he is locked in to pleasing those who bought him, especially the mining industries and the miltary industrial complex. In this scenario, climate change has to look important enough to promote nuclear power (and new nuclear weapons), but not important enough to do anything else.
Howard needs this position, too, in his sycophantic (or is that Psychophantic?) relationship with Bush, and BHPP & Rio Tinto's need to sell uranium to China.

yes I agree that:

Howard is following Bush, in a tried and tested formula, i.e: "Say all the right motherhood things about global warming, but make sure to do nothing"
In this way, Howard might look good until the election.

The danger is that Australia becomes isolated from Europe and Kyoto as it falls behind in reducing greenhouse emissionss. It will need to play catch up and so inaction now makes things more difficult in the medium term re finalising post Kyoto arrangements.

The EU, K Japan, India and China have agreed to finalize post Kyoto arrangements by 2009, but the Howard Government is not going to set Australia's medium term emission targets until 2010.