Climate action after the CPRS

May 12, 2010 at 3:28 am Leave a comment

The demise of the Rudd government’s proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) is not the problem. It’s a good thing. The problem is that the federal Labor government still has no serious climate change policy.

The 2010 federal budget confirmed this. An extra $650 million will be spent over four years on renewable energy and energy efficiency measures – a small boost to the $1.6 billion already slated for investment in solar energy.

At the same time, a rebate scheme to conserve and recycle water lost $249 million and bush regeneration programs lost $161 million. The Department of Climate Change had its budget cut by $238 million.

The government has also skimped on its promise made at the Copenhagen climate summit to increase aid to countries most affected by climate change, especially Pacific island nations threatened by rising sea levels.

The budget had a climate aid item, but it’s not new money. It has merely allocated a part of the existing aid budget.

Before the budget was released, more than 40 climate action groups and NGOs signed an open letter to the government that called on it to “to scale-up investment in renewable energy and climate-friendly infrastructure in this year’s federal budget”.

The campaign and research group Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) initiated the open letter. It said: “We express our profound concern that your government has still not proposed or implemented any policy to significantly reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. At a time when climate change experts agree we must act, it is imperative that your government begins efforts to de-carbonise our national economy.”

The letter stressed a transition to a renewable energy economy would be jobs rich. It called on the government climate spending to match its planned investment of $22 to $42 billion in the national broadband network.

The initiative is important because it unites the climate movement around the idea that the government must take major responsibility for stopping climate change, rather than leaving it to the market alone.

It echoes the call that came out of Bolivia’s World People’s Summit on Climate Change, which was held in Cochabamba last month. The summit’s final declaration called on governments in the rich world to commit at least 6% of annual gross domestic product (GDP) to help developing countries.

The first step towards the kind of just solution to climate change envisioned at Cochabamba is for big polluting nations like Australia is to sharply cut its own carbon pollution.

BZE’s is finalising its stationary energy plan, which outlines how Australia could get 100% of its energy from renewables in just 10 years. It estimates this would cost about $380 billion over the decade – or close to 3.5% of Australia’s annual GDP.

Building wide support for this kind of emergency transition is the way forward.

But climate campaigners should shed no tears for the postponement of the CPRS – it was never meant to cut emissions sharply. Rather, it was designed to help Labor satisfy the widespread public concern about climate change while still letting carbon-intensive industries to continue as usual.

From the outset, grassroots climate activists campaigned against the CPRS. They said its loopholes and compensation to big polluters made it worse than nothing.

Others pointed to the bad results of emissions trading in the European Union and questioned whether a scheme that privatised the air and traded in the “right to pollute” was a good idea.

Most of all, opponents pointed out the CPRS ignored the climate science, which demanded far bigger emission cuts than the government’s 5% target. In practice, the scheme would have delayed the kind of rapid transition we need to decarbonise our economy.

The proposed CPRS was unlikely to meet even this tiny goal because it legalised a scam whereby companies could buy carbon credits for emission cuts made overseas. The government would have counted the credits as “Australian reductions”, even if Australia’s actual emissions had still risen overall.

The 150 climate action groups at the 2009 grassroots Climate Action Summit concluded the scheme was a dangerous distraction from real climate action. It decided stopping the scheme from becoming law was a priority. The 2010 summit reaffirmed this goal.

Differences over the CPRS arose in the broader climate movement, however. Some big NGOs, such as the World Wildlife Fund and the Australian Conservation Foundation, put their credibility on the line to back the government’s scheme, despite its flaws.

But in April, PM Kevin Rudd announced the CPRS would be delayed until 2013. Like the initial legislation itself, the decision to postpone was a cynical one, devoid of principle.

Labor simply calculated the complex carbon-trading scheme would be too risky to sell to the public in an election year. Under new leader Tony Abbott, the Coalition has adopted a more strident climate denial position. In response, Labor ruled out dealing with the Greens to make its legislation stronger.

Rather, it decided to minimise its differences with the Coalition and junk its centerpiece climate policy.

It appears the government’s recent battering in the polls has much to do with its perceived backflip on climate action. Public support for an emissions trading scheme is still high, largely because many people still understand it as a climate-friendly policy.

However, the deferment of the CPRS opens the door for campaigners to build pressure for genuine climate-friendly alternatives.

It’s clear the community campaigns for 100% renewable energy are already having an effect. The May 5 Australian said ALP MPs were concerned after “being bombarded by outraged younger voters in their electorates” about climate change.

Climate action groups around the country connected with the 100% Renewable Energy campaign have led this “bombardment”. Dozens of groups organised to contact their local MPs in the first week of May to let the politicians know the climate movement is more determined than ever to force sustainable change.

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Entry filed under: Beyond Zero Emissions, Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, climate movement.

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