Thursday, October 13, 2011

CO2: The debate gains credibility

After years of discussion, craven retreats, wild exaggerations, and lashings of good old fashioned political duplicity on both sides, Australia has finally legislated for an emissions trading scheme.
So says Mark Kenny on The Drum.

Here in Australia, the political debate about carbon emissions has waxed and waned over at least the last decade. Various schemes have been proposed by both major parties, but nothing has been brought before the House. All that changed at the last election, when a hung parliament saw the formation of a coalition between Labor and the Greens, giving a bare one vote majority in the House of Representatives. Leveraged by the Greens and taking account of the best advice from science and Treasury, an Emissions Trading Scheme has been formulated. Many studies, endless committee meetings and countless volumes of hot air have culminated in our Federal government passing the legislation by the smallest of margins: two votes (which would have been just one vote, had a member of the opposition not been barred from the chamber for twenty-four hours, on the night before the vote).

Naturally, the opposition coalition of Liberal and National members has expressed outrage, concern, contempt and all the other moral discomforts they self-righteously lay claim to. Little in this life can match the hilarious spectacle of politicians scrabbling for the moral high ground, as though we, the peepul, are silly enough to associate politics with morality.

It is an interesting situation. Our lower house, the House of Represenatives, is coming up for re-election in 2013 and current polling shows the Labor/Greens coalition in woeful condition. An election today would see the Liberal/National coalition win in a landslide. The leader of the opposition, Tony Abbot, has pledged to repeal the legislation if he gains the prime-ministership at that election. However, our upper house, the Senate, is comfortably dominated by Labor and the Greens. Even if Abbot comes into power in 2013, he will face a hostile Senate, which will block any attempt to repeal the ETS. Some calculate that the earliest the ETS could be dismantled is 2018, some six years after it comes into force. By that time, it will be structurally difficult, if not impossible, to unpick the threads.

One reason it will be difficult to repeal the ETS is that the legislative package ties in tax breaks for low income families. To drop the ETS would mean increasing taxes for 60% of the population and that would be an unpalatable pill for a government to swallow. Thus, we are going to see an unpopular government bring into force a regime to address climate change in such a way as to make it almost impossible to dismantle. Those who support climate change action are delighted and those, led by the Murdoch press, who think the whole climate change debate is a conspiracy, are stridently calling for the Government to resign and put the whole ETS package before the peepul at an election. Clearly, the Government is not going anywhere and, unless the balance changes before the activation date of 1 July 2012, we Australians will have made a small step towards moderating climate change due to human CO2 emissions.

Pretty good outcome, considering the political landscape here in Oz.

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