Published by ABC’s The Drum.

In a speech to the National Press Club yesterday, Climate Minister Greg Combet announced that the government would devote half of the carbon tax revenue for compensating households.

By promising that the carbon price will be a financial boon for Australian households, Labor is attempting to counter Tony Abbott’s populist crusade against carbon pricing.

For weeks, Abbott and his Coalition allies backed by the polluting industries have mounted a fear-mongering campaign. The story the government wants to tell now is that while the Opposition leader is content to make exaggerated claims about economic ruin, Labor will make sure that you’re economically better off with a carbon price. Labor is determined to win the support of ‘hip-pocket voters’ to take the edge off Abbott’s mob.

The Gillard government is setting up another interesting dynamic. By announcing that householders will be ‘overcompensated’ for the impacts of carbon pricing, they have set a limit for calls for a low price and industry exemptions. The logic goes something like this: The higher the price on carbon, the more ‘overcompensation’ one will receive; conversely, the lower the price or narrower the coverage, the smaller the compensation.

Politics aside, the question now remains – what should they do with the remainder of the revenue? To cement its credibility on climate change the Gillard government must commit to investing the remaining share of the carbon price revenue to lay the foundations of a zero emissions economy. The government has a responsibility to protect low-income householders from carbon price impacts, but it also has a responsibility to invest in decarbonising Australia.

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Tonight, thousands of Australians will switch off their lights for Earth Hour. They will be joined by millions of people around the world united by their concern for climate change. Whether or not you will one of those turning the lights off tonight, I ask you to switch on your social conscience.

While most people in the developed world have the luxury of participating in a self-imposed blackout for an hour, billions of people in developing countries have no choice. For them, even fossil fuels are too expensive.

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“In difficult ground, keep steadily on the march; On hemmed-in ground, resort to stratagem; On desperate (death) ground, fight.” – Sun Tzu (544–496 BC)

“The ancient commanders of armies, who well knew the powerful influence of necessity, and how it inspired the soldiers with the most desperate courage, neglected nothing to subject their men to such pressure” – Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527)

If an election were held now the Labor party would be swept from office. Polling released yesterday confirms that the Gillard government has taken a hit since launching its push for a national carbon price. Both Nielsen and Essential polls show that the Labor’s primary vote is down, so too is PM Gillard’s approval rating—the lowest since taking the leadership. The latest polling comes just one week after Newspoll showed Labor’s primary vote at an historic low of 30 per cent.

When it comes to the carbon pricing agenda, PM Gillard and her Labor government are fighting on death ground—the terrain that the military strategist Sun Tzu described more than two thousand years ago in The Art of War. As The Australian’s Paul Kelly notes, Gillard “has no viable option but to press ahead with her carbon price policy … to retreat would repeat the mistake that ruined Kevin Rudd’s prime ministership.”

If there has been a time for Labor to unite and fight, it is now.

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Published by ABC’s The Drum.

The climate change policy debate was reignited last week with Prime Minister Julia Gillard committing to introduce a carbon price from July 1, 2012.

At the start of February, it seemed Prime Minister Gillard was gambling with her climate credibility by adopting a carbon price-only policy. Now, just a few weeks later, and Julia Gillard is gambling with no less than that, her political future, and the future of our planet.

Gillard’s strategy draws a parallel with John Howard’s GST. While shock jock Alan Jones accuses the Prime Minister of lying (remember that cringe-worthy ‘JuLIAR’ jibe?), the argument is not as potent as critics think. Surely Alan Jones would remember that in 1995 John Howard said ‘There’s no way that GST will ever be part of our policy… never, ever. It’s dead.’ As we know, it was Howard who won the 1998 election on the pledge to introduce a GST and did just that in 2000. Gillard is betting that delivering a domestic policy achievement, like Howard, will trump flip flopping in the eyes of the public.

Countering the onslaught of the Abbott-led Coalition and the greenhouse mafia is a great challenge to Labor’s agenda. To blunt these attacks Labor must look beyond the support of the large environment groups, that some argue are ‘impotent’, and the clean-tech industry that is still in its infancy. Labor must demonstrate to the public that it’s serious about the climate change challenge and invest carbon tax revenue to projects that create jobs and help build a domestic clean technology industry. Without this transparent allocation of tax revenue, Labor’s carbon price push could go the same way as Rudd’s mining super profits tax.

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Published by ABC Environment.

At her recent National Press Club address, Prime Minister Julia Gillard rationalised Labor’s decision to cut its investment in renewable energy to fund the flood levy on the basis that these policies “are no longer necessary” with a carbon price. Last week, addressing the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, Gillard argued that “a carbon price will drive another sweeping technological revolution like Information Technology did in the 1980s and 90s.”

Both cases reveal that those advising the PM grossly misunderstand climate and energy policy.

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Prime Minister Julia Gillard has reframed her government’s carbon pricing agenda in an attempt to tap into the chief concerns of the electorate. Rather than making the case for climate legislation with the Great Barrier Reef-destroying rhetoric of her predecessor Kevin Rudd, Gillard is presenting climate change as an economic opportunity. In the words of political commentator Annabel Crabb, the government is ‘…replacing morality with economics.’

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Published by ABC’s The Drum.

As climate change advocates start yet another busy year fighting for national climate legislation, new Essential Research polling reveals that the issue is still a low priority for the electorate.

The poor polling performance not only complicates things for those who support measures that address the climate crisis, but also for Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who has staked her leadership on implementing a carbon price in the next term of government.

A meagre 10 per cent identify climate change as a top tier concern in the first public polling of 2011 to canvass voter priorities. At a time when climate change should be a high priority for Australians, concern for the issue has dropped six points in 12 months and is ranked a woeful tenth out of 13 issues.* Both the Gillard government and the climate movement will want to turn the poor polling around.

The temptation of some climate activists will be to ramp-up the apocalyptic rhetoric, however this tactic risks alienating the public further. Research published by the University of California Berkeley last December argued that “Dire messages warning of the severity of global warming and its presumed dangers can backfire, paradoxically increasing skepticism about global warming by contradicting individuals’ deeply-held beliefs that the world is fundamentally just” (PDF). In other words, it’s easier for the public to switch off than to engage with climate change when it is presented as an insurmountable problem.

So what’s the alternative? How do we avoid this trap while achieving good outcomes for climate change and renewable energy?

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Published by the US-based clean energy advocate, Americans for Energy Leadership.

On the heels of filing a complaint with the WTO against China’s subsidies for its domestic wind turbine manufacturers, President Obama signed an appropriations law that requires the Department of Defense to purchase American-made solar panels. The move appears to be the first instance of America leveraging its WTO complaint to boost its clean technology industry, and shows that the US is beginning to take the clean energy race seriously.

Some will argue that the ‘buy American’ provision smacks of hypocrisy—that the administration is as guilty of the same behaviour it has criticised China for. Others will argue that the measure counters the Chinese subsidies and is a legitimate way to bolster the US clean energy sector in an uneven playing field. Either way, the move shines a spotlight on the role of military procurement.

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Published by the US-based clean energy advocate, Americans for Energy Leadership.

In an attempt to advance the “new Sputnik” narrative, the Obama administration filed a complaint with the World Trade Organisation against China over its clean energy subsidies in the last weeks of 2010.

The administration’s move comes just months after the United Steelworkers (USW) union filed a trade case with the office of United States Trade Representative. The earlier USW petition argues that China’s generous subsidies and land grants, available only for locally made parts, constitute preferential treatment of its domestic clean energy manufacturers. The current practices, the USW argues, disadvantage American firms and are trade distorting.

Over at Grist, Lucia Green-Weiskel and Tina Gerhardt write that:

“Both complaints ignore the fact that energy industries all over the world benefit from government subsidies. In the U.S. and Europe, the nuclear and fossil-fuel industries get massive public subsidies. And as a percentage of GDP, Spain and the U.K. pump funding at levels similar to China’s into green subsidies.”

While this critique is correct, ultimately it doesn’t really matter whether or not the WTO rules in favor of America. The whole exercise helps to focus attention on the “new Sputnik” narrative that appears to be gaining momentum.

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Following the trend of the last several years, climate change will be a key political issue in the year 2011. The Gillard government’s Multi-Party Climate Change Committee and the quest for a comprehensive climate change policy will drive the debate in Australia. On the international front, the UNFCCC process and seemingly endless negotiations will once again spark interest and argument. And that’s just what we know.

The Real Ewbank was launched in 2010 to compile my writing on these matters. To kick off 2011, I thought I’d share with you the most popular posts of the last year. I’ll be back with more analysis of domestic and international climate change politics soon, but for now, thanks for reading!

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Leigh Ewbank


Climate and energy writer based in Melbourne, Australia.

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