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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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Published by the ABC, Australia’s National Broadcaster.

Linking the demise of the Labor party’s electoral fortunes to its decision to defer the CPRS, as Sara Phillips has argued, is correct. But that doesn’t mean that emissions trading will be the focus of the next Australian government, no matter who it is. Whether our next PM is Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott, climate policy will focus on less contentious proposals than putting a price on carbon in the near term.

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Published by On Line Opinion, Australia’s leading e-journal of social and political debate.

Julia Gillard’s announcement last Friday marked a new low point for Australian climate change policy. If reelected, a Labor government will fill the void created by its decision to defer the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) with a collection of low-impact policy measures: miniscule investments in renewable energy; an ill-conceived “cash for clunkers” program; and the much criticised plan for a “citizens’ assembly” to establish “community consensus” on climate change. Such measures do not reflect the urgency and scale of the climate change challenge.

In the wake of Gillard’s announcement, several climate advocates made the case that community consensus on climate change already exists. Be that as it may, community consensus doesn’t tell us whether climate change is a priority issue for Australians. Polling released last week revealed a disturbing truth for Australia’s climate change advocates. Contrary to the rhetoric of many, addressing climate change ranks well down the list of the most important issues for voters in the 2010 federal election.

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Published by ABC’s The Drum.

The ascension of Julia Gillard provides an opportunity for Labor to reorient its climate change policy agenda.

Contrary to what its proponents have argued for years, emissions trading has not been as politically feasible as initially thought. Labor’s inability to pass a market-based mechanism in its first term not only brings into question the political palatability of neoliberal-inspired policy, but also draws attention to the need for alternative approaches.

With the national climate change debate focused solely on capping and trading carbon, policymakers have forgotten that there are many paths to reduce Australia’s emissions and transition to a clean energy economy.

The launch of Beyond Zero Emissions‘ Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy report is an attempt to push back against narrow-minded policymaking. It details a path for Australia to meet 100 per cent of its energy needs with renewable energy by the end of the decade. Making the plan a reality will require a radical shift in climate policy.

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Australia’s new Prime Minister is clearing the decks. Julia Gillard is seeking to quickly resolve contentious issues to set the Labor party up for the forthcoming federal election. First it was settling the dispute between the government and the mining giants over the proposed Resources Super Profits Tax (RPST). Last week it was establishing a position on Australia’s most exaggerated issue, asylum seekers arriving by boat. And this week Gillard will reportedly address climate change. The PM will seek to outline the climate policy Labor will take to the polls

Rather than canvass Labor’s policy options (done well here by Adam Morton), I’d like to explore the implications of Gillard’s mining tax compromise (or capitulation?) for the carbon-pricing agenda. With the speed of Gillard’s clean up job little has been written about the impact the RPST backdown will have on the push for a domestic emissions trading scheme.

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This post is an extension of a letter published by The Age.

Last week, deputy director of the Australian National University’s Climate Change Institute, Frank Jotzo, made the case that carbon pricing is the “single most important tool” for decarbonising the Australian economy.

While Frank Jotzo’s carbon pricing rhetoric is reassuring, it is off the mark in terms of climate change politics and policy. The challenge of implementing carbon pricing is greater than ever. The government’s backdown on the resources super profits tax will embolden Australia’s greenhouse mafia, who will double their efforts to kill off, or substantially weaken, carbon-pricing legislation.

In a policy sense, Jotzo overstates the ability of emissions trading to de-carbonise the economy. Measures to rapidly deploy large-scale renewable energy technologies like concentrated solar thermal and other low-carbon infrastructure must be the “central plank” of credible climate policy. Carbon pricing can play a supportive role to these initiatives.

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Co-authored with Pablo Brait, Director of Strategic Planning for Beyond Zero Emissions, and published by ABC’s The Drum.

In April, the Rudd Government abandoned the severely flawed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, the centrepiece of its national climate policy agenda.

After two defeats in the Senate, and unwilling to risk a double dissolution election on the issue, Labor backflipped and deferred its plan to establish a domestic emissions-trading scheme to 2013. At a time when decisive action is needed to avoid dangerous climate change our national climate policy is at a standstill.

Australia desperately needs a new approach. We need a policy agenda that acknowledges the urgency of the situation and accepts the requirement of evidence-based emissions cuts identified by climate science. We need a circuit breaker to reinvigorate the debate and spur action.

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Published by On Line Opinion, Australia’s leading e-journal of social and political debate.

It’s no understatement that last week’s Federal budget was bad for climate change. The Rudd Government, fresh from its emissions trading backdown, once again failed to live up to its rhetoric. It failed to act on “the greatest scientific, moral and economic challenge of our time”. And it failed to deliver the scale of investment needed to drive our transition to a clean energy economy.

There was a belief that the 2010 budget would include some big investments to combat the climate crisis. Rudd’s decision to delay the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) to 2013 coincided with a sharp decline in public support for the government. The Prime Minister’s own approval rating has collapsed in recent weeks, falling 14 points to 45 per cent – the lowest level since taking office in 2007. The budget was regarded as a way for Rudd to regain his edge on climate policy. He would have the opportunity to restore the confidence of voters suspicious of his government’s commitment to climate change.

As we now know, the government’s investment in renewable energy was markedly less than the year earlier. But should this come as a surprise? No. It shouldn’t.

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Published by the ABC, Australia’s national broadcaster.

Australia needs a Plan B for climate policy. We need a nation-building project on the scale of the Snowy Mountains Scheme to invest in renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure. This is the fresh approach needed to drive Australia’s transition towards a clean economy and protect the nation from dangerous climate change.

The Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday that the government will delay its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme until 2013 is a tacit admission that pricing carbon is not viable in the current political environment.

Labor and proponents of emissions trading have been living a fantasy for too long. They have ignored the realities of politics to pursue a policy that had no reasonable chance of being implemented at a time when climate change experts agree we must act. Now, Australia is set for yet more inaction.

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Cross posted at US climate and energy blog, WattHead.

It’s official: “cap-and-trade is dead” in the United States. The frank declaration was made by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham during a private meeting with environmental leaders at the weekend. The Washington Post report that the Senators spearheading national climate legislation have rejected an economy-wide cap-and-trade scheme. Senators Lindsey Graham, John Kerry (Democrat), and Joe Lieberman (Independent) are “engaged in a radical behind-the-scenes overhaul of climate legislation” and are “preparing to jettison the broad ‘cap-and-trade’ approach that has defined the legislative debate for close to a decade.”

The collapse of cap-and-trade in the United States has implications for Australian climate policy, making the Rudd Government’s mission to pass a cap-and-trade scheme even more difficult. The Australian Senate has twice rejected Labor’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) and is set to reject the bill for a third time in May. Unlike the previous rejections, the stakes are higher this time around. A third strike for the proposal just months out from a national election would be a demoralising blow for the Labor Party.

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Leigh Ewbank


Climate and energy writer based in Melbourne, Australia.

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