Showing posts with label kyoto. Show all posts
Showing posts with label kyoto. Show all posts

Sunday, December 21, 2008

it's not easy (or practical) being green

Rudd finds it's not easy (or practical) being green |
* Paul Daley
* December 21, 2008

AT THE last election, Kevin Rudd declared climate change to be "the great moral challenge of our generation".

He did so as a man who was somehow above the cut and grubby thrust of realpolitik. But perhaps that's always been Rudd's great natural gift: to appear utterly uncynical when he is acutely political. He vowed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol where Jurassic John Howard — stuck in a bubble of climate change denial — would not. Perhaps the biggest part of the great moral challenge, he led us to believe, was to lead the world through example by imposing meaningful emissions targets on Australia's big carbon producers.

Climate change mitigation has turned out to be less of a moral challenge for Rudd than a great political obstacle. As a senior Government figure said on the eve of the release of the emissions targets: "If we bugger this up, then we lose government at the next election."

Rudd has been condemned for setting a low carbon-reduction target of just 5 per cent on 2000 levels by 2020, and up to 15 per cent in the improbable event that developing nations agree to bigger reductions. Environmentalists have condemned him as betraying ordinary voters, who were captivated by his green hue at the last election. They are also appalled that big trade-exposed industries will win hefty concessions when permits to pollute are sold and traded.

The heaviest polluters are, however, still displeased, despite the massive subsidies promised to them. Some are still threatening to move their operations — and jobs — to places with no fixed targets. Therein, of course, lies the real moral quandary for Rudd: getting the biggest carbon producers to take responsibility for changing the nature of their businesses, rather than just transporting their problems to parts of the planet with Third World regulation and endless cheap labour.

But on this, political necessity dictated he effectively raise the white flag — for now at least.

Of the $11.5 billion raised through the sale of permits for carbon production, $2.9 billion will be returned to heavy polluters in the form of free permits, while the coal-fired-power industry will receive almost $4 billion over five years to offset rising prices. Another $4 billion will be carefully targeted at politically volatile low and middle-income earners to offset rising prices.

Herein, perhaps, lies the real reason why Rudd settled on 5 rather than 10 or 15 per cent minimums by 2020. For every percentage point of targeted reduction, the Government would find itself under even greater pressure for more compensation from the heaviest polluters.

It sounds as if Rudd is in an invidious position, right? Well, no.

Days before he released his 5 per cent target, some of his more trusted senior colleagues were expressing utter confidence that, in such a foreboding economic environment, he had the politics — if not the short-term policy — absolutely right.

He had effectively orchestrated a charade whereby what amounts to little more than a wait-and-see policy would be attacked from all sides. He could be Mr Middle Ground in the face of industry and green hardliners.

There was, it is said, deep concern among some in cabinet (including, perhaps, Climate Change Minister Penny Wong and Environment Minister Peter Garrett) that Rudd's 5 per cent did not go nearly far enough.

But Rudd prevailed, as he invariably does. It is why he is a much better politician than Wong or Garrett can ever hope to be.

Once Australia was faced with a recession, Rudd's political pragmatism was always going to triumph. And so, his 5 per cent target should not be seen as a policy about climate change at all. It is foremost a policy for winning a second term.

Rudd's target was roundly dismissed as both "conservative" and "moderate". But it's also, I believe, a radical personal capitulation to a base instinct for electoral survival. As such, Rudd runs the risk of looking to the electorate as if he's not such a different hue from the bloke he knocked off a year ago.

Then there's Malcolm Turnbull — a comparative progressive on climate change mitigation. But his Coalition is divided on whether to oppose the 5 per cent target when the legislation reaches the Senate.

Turnbull's preference is to support the legislation, it is said, because to oppose such a moderate cut would make him captive to Howard's legacy of climate change intransigence.

Rudd's pragmatism on climate change should not, meanwhile, be seen in isolation. It is a talisman for the political problems he is beginning to face as long-awaited policy reviews are finally delivered. All will demand big-spending responses to meet recommended reforms.

Paul Daley is The Sunday Age's national political columnist.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

carbon reduction

Realist approach to carbon reduction | The Australian
The hyperbole of deep greens cannot be taken seriously

IN the absence of a global agreement, the Rudd Government has gone as far as it responsibly could in announcing unilateral cuts in greenhouse emissions of between 5 per cent and 15 per cent on 2000 levels by 2020. Kevin Rudd has made the exercise harder than it should have been and more prone to errors by insisting on starting the emissions trading scheme in July 2010 on the basis of an artificial political deadline without any sign of a post-Kyoto agreement. That said, the Prime Minister's policy response to the Garnaut report is largely balanced, prudent and cautious. While honouring his promise to act on climate change, it is mindful of the need to protect jobs in challenging economic times.

Mr Rudd is not starry-eyed about the chances of international agreement, acknowledging it may well come after the Copenhagen meeting in a year's time. Yet an ambitious global agreement, not futile, economy-destroying cuts of our own, is the only way to reduce the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. Mr Rudd is politically astute in recognising that most voters are smart enough to recognise that, and do not share the deep-green agenda of climate-change fanatics. There is little room for debate with people who believe there is no time like the present to shut down the coal industry completely.

The Australian agrees with Greens leader Bob Brown on one point however: that the Prime Minister's announcement yesterday was little different to the one John Howard would have been making if had he won the last election. On other points, Senator Brown should listen to families who need their jobs and enterprises that need to stay in business, even in tough economic times. He should listen more to the Australian Workers Union, which recognises its members' livelihoods are at stake. So should the shrieking banshees carted out for yesterday's announcement. Some of the journalists' questions to Mr Rudd, too, owed more to emotive hyperbole than an understanding of what is achievable by a small country whose greenhouse emissions will be 1 per cent of the world total by 2030.

The Greens have rendered themselves irrelevant with their breathtakingly ridiculous claim that the Government's response "sold out the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu, the Murray-Darling Basin, the Australian Alps and the entire eastern seaboard". Mr Rudd signalled clearly he would not be negotiating with the Greens to get his package through the Senate. That is wise. But Malcolm Turnbull should be under no illusion that he can hold the Government to ransom, either. The Government will use this as a test of the Coalition's sincerity on climate change, and the Opposition Leader will have to play his cards carefully.

The Government has taken on board the concerns of emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industries with a $2.9 billion package. Sensibly, this now includes LPG and petrol refining. The number of free permits for this sector has been increased to 25per cent from 20 per cent in the earlier green paper. As Mr Rudd said in his speech, forcing such industries offshore would be bad for jobs and bad for the environment if they relocated to nations with much larger greenhouse emissions. The $750 million fund for coal and the development of carbon capture and storage recognise the importance of coal in meeting domestic energy needs and export returns.

Compensation for low- and middle-income households is the largest compensation component, with the Government looking after 2.9 million people in low-income groups. This politically savvy approach underlines the Government's determination not to adversely affect the standards of living of the most vulnerable in society. This will be balanced with an energy-efficiency package to help households and businesses adjust to changing conditions.

The Government has embraced the Garnaut strategy of gearing up to meet more ambitious goals should international agreement arise. This remains the real environmental goal, but as Professor Ross Garnaut says, it will be harder to achieve than trade or arms agreements.