Published by Climate Spectator.

This week, the Labor government’s Multi-Party Climate Change Committee (MPCCC) agreed to a set of principles to guide the development of a national carbon-pricing model. While a carbon pricing legislation is a worthy pursuit that will make fossil fuels more expensive, we must not forget that a carbon price alone is not enough to deal with the climate crisis. The mechanism has several limitations that inhibit the deployment of clean energy infrastructure.

Earlier in the year the Head of the Energy Technology Policy Division for the International Energy Agency Peter Taylor argued, “…a price on carbon is needed to send a strong signal to the market, but it’s unlikely this will be enough to transform our energy system. Other policies will be needed to support technology development and deployment.” To ensure effective climate change mitigation and the transformation of our energy system, the Gillard government and MPCCC must be cognisant of the limitations of carbon prices and include additional policies in next year’s climate and energy agenda.

The best public policy approach is to reverse the hierarchy between carbon price and the so-called ‘complementary measures’, such as a feed in tariff, efficiency standards, public infrastructure investments and industry development. An effective carbon price will be the measure that best complements a whole-of-sector reform plan for energy generation, distribution and consumption. After all, Australia must effectively transition its whole energy system to renewable sources as soon as possible.

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Published by ABC’s The Drum.

Climate change is a wicked problem. It will take an unparalleled amount of human effort to address.

While it’s important for the public to be aware of the risks of runaway climate change, focusing narrowly on threats and evoking apocalyptic rhetoric, as Melbourne writer Doug Hendrie did yesterday, is not helpful. It might be good for scaring the general public senseless, but does not create the conditions needed to deliver action on climate change. For that we need a positive vision of our future.

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Tonight in Melbourne, Australia’s leading journalists will gather for the annual Walkley Awards—the profession’s highest honour.

Noting the absence of a Walkley that recognises excellence in environmental journalism, leading figures in national climate and energy debates have signed an open letter to the Walkley Advisory Board, calling for a new award to fill this critical gap in 2011.

I encourage you to read the statement below which featured in Crikey‘s subscriber email today. As a signatory, I hope the letter contributes to the creation of a Walkley for Australia’s outstanding environmental journalists sooner rather than later.

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Published by the ABC, Australia’s national broadcaster.

The latest round of international climate change negotiations is now underway in the Mexican resort town Cancún. After the disappointing outcome at last year’s UNFCCC negotiations in Copenhagen there is a notable enthusiasm gap for the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP 16). Nonetheless, hundreds of politicians, government officials, activists and lobbyists from around the world have gathered in Cancún to work towards a global agreement on climate change.

On the eve of COP 16, the Nobel-winning environmental activist Wangari Maathai challenged us all to keep climate change in perspective. ‘If we are to help steer the world through this uncertainty, we must be clear that climate change, though important, is only one part of the puzzle,’ Maathai wrote in The Guardian.

‘If we truly want to tackle climate change, poverty and conflict we need to think holistically. We need to, as Ban Ki-moon said at the launch of the UN global sustainability panel, “think big, connecting the dots between poverty, energy, food, water, environmental pressure and climate change.”’

‘Focusing on only one dot means that we lose sight of the bigger picture.’

Maathai adds:

‘[The UNFCCC] negotiations are about more than climate change – we need to find reason to trust each other so that we can find a new way of working together to tackle the connected global challenges we face. Our failure to link these issues affects us all.’

This is great sentiment, and I agree that we need to pay more attention to the interconnected nature of the challenges facing humankind, but what would this approach look like?

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This Saturday the state of Victoria goes to the polls. The Victorian Greens party were originally expected to mount a serious challenge to Labor in the inner-city seats of Melbourne, Richmond, Brunswick and Northcote. But that was, of course, before the Liberal party’s decision to preference the Greens party last in all 88 of the state’s lower house seats.

Now, the consensus among political analysts is that Ted Ballieu’s unexpected move has dashed the Greens’ hopes of following Adam Bandt’s success at the 2010 federal election. According to ABC’s election analyst Antony Green:

‘The Liberal decision to preference against the Greens in all electorates is an in-principle decision which will deliver Labor the four inner-city seats where they are under challenge from the Greens. Even if the Liberals don’t campaign strongly, there will be very little flow of preferences to the Greens and certainly not enough to defeat Labor in those inner-city seats.’

Regardless of whether or not the Victorian Greens get new members elected to parliament in 2010, the party will eventually have to address the question of leadership. The Age quote Greg Barber acknowledging an agreement among fellow Green parliamentarians to share the leadership. Will the Victorian Greens elect a party leader in the next term of office or will they continue with the joint leadership farce?

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The non-partisan think tank the Grattan Institute has published a new report that identifies improved teacher effectiveness as the key to achieving better educational outcomes for Australian students. The reform focus, the Institute argues, will allow Australia to increase its international performance and help the nation harness the economic and social benefits of a better-educated population.

The Investing in Our Teachers, Investing in Our Economy report is an attempt to broaden the education policy agenda by looking beyond the narrow focus on class sizes. Dr Ben Jensen, the Education Program Director of Grattan Institute says:

‘Measures to improve teacher effectiveness will deliver better value for our children’s learning outcomes, improve Australia’s economic productivity and be a better use of public funds than reducing class sizes.’

The Grattan Institute adds:

‘The drive to reduce class sizes, whilst well intentioned and politically popular, is found to be without impact in producing better education outcomes for students.’

The report represents a break from the usual policy discourse that places emphasis on quantitative performance indicators.

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Recently, the Climate Institute released a report comparing the climate and energy policies of six major economies. The joint Climate Institute/Vivid Economics report (PDF) calculates the ‘carbon price equivalents’ of non-price-based initiatives like clean energy investments, renewable energy mandates, feed-in tariffs, and other regulatory measures, for example. Whether it makes sense to shoehorn these distinct policies into the carbon price model is worthy of discussion, but for now I’d like to look at the key talking point in the communications surrounding this report.

The Climate Institute claim that carbon pricing is key for ‘driving competitiveness in the clean energy economy.’ This might be the case. But is it the same thing as driving progress towards a clean energy economy? To gain a perspective on this question, I asked leading energy policy expert Alan Pears what he thought.

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At the weekend, The Age reported that increased alcohol prices are driving many young people* to switch to the party drug ecstasy.

A new phenomenon of young people ‘switching’ to the increasingly cheap party drug ecstasy has been fuelled by rising alcohol prices, according to drug researchers, nightclub owners and the people themselves…

‘It is cheaper and convenient to use pills,’ said Professor Jake Najman, director of the University of Queensland’s Alcohol and Drug Research and Education Centre. ‘A lot of young people are making that choice to switch between alcohol and ecstasy. Pills can be cheaper, there is no question.’

Many readers will be thinking ‘what the hell does ecstasy have to do with climate change policy?’—the frequently discussed topic of this blog. The answer is simple: the case highlights the unintended consequences of pricing-based policy and the substitution effect.

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Published by the National Times.

The silver bullet view of carbon pricing is a common theme in Australian climate change policy debates. It is argued that by establishing domestic carbon price signals the nation will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and address the challenge of climate change. International examples of carbon pricing initiatives are often cited in these debates. Unfortunately, incomplete accounts of them hide important lessons for policymakers at home. A recent opinion piece by Dr Peter Wood and Paul Burke of the Australian National University is no exception.

Wood and Burke present several international cases where carbon pricing is now operating, or is on the cards, to make the case that Australia is behind many nations in adopting such measures. While this contention is correct, Wood and Burke do not consider whether the carbon pricing measures adopted abroad have been effective. They do not consider the initiatives that preceded carbon pricing proposals or the fact that carbon taxes are often used to generate revenue rather than creating a price signal for the private sector.

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Published at Crikey’s environment blog, Rooted.

It’s time for the government and climate change advocates to stop obsessing over carbon pricing and get behind an investment-centred climate policy.

Polling released last week, as PM Gillard announced the members of her government’s Carbon Pricing Climate Change Committee, showed that just 37% of Australians think it is very important to implement an ETS (or other carbon-pricing measures) to address climate change. When we consider the prominence of emissions trading in contemporary climate change policy debates in Australia, it is fair to say the measure is still struggling to win strong public support.

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Leigh Ewbank


Climate and energy writer based in Melbourne, Australia.

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