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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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Published by the ABC, Australia’s National Broadcaster.

Fresh questions about the efficacy of an emissions trading scheme have been raised, after a new analysis by the UK-based non-government organisation, Sandbag, revealed major flaws with the European Union’s emissions trading scheme. This comes as the debate about climate change policy and carbon pricing gathers pace in Australia.

The Cap or Trap? (pdf) report finds that the second phase of the European ETS will fail to deliver significant carbon reductions. This will be a surprising outcome for many Australians who have been led to believe that emissions trading is ‘decarbonising’ Europe. According to report author Damien Morris:

…the ETS is on course to require savings of, at best, a miniscule 32 million tonnes of emissions between 2008-2012, despite covering 12,000 installations and 1.9 billion tonnes of emissions annually. Regulating a single power station over the same period could have had a greater impact.

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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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Published by the Breakthrough Institute, a progressive think tank based in Oakland, California.

Kevin Rudd

Less than three weeks from the Australian Senate’s highly anticipated second vote on the CPRS bill, the Australian Government’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) has revealed new problems with the Rudd Government’s deeply flawed cap-and-trade plan. Crikey’s national politics correspondent Bernard Keane has found that the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) will require a massive $5 billion of taxpayer subsidies in its first five years, not breaking even until 2022. With the Labor Government releasing this crucial data so late in the game, it’s no wonder that Australia’s policy analysts are finding some interesting surprises.

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

CompassThe Senate’s rejection of the Rudd Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in August presents the Australian climate community with the opportunity to reassess and recalibrate their messaging and advance an effective policy agenda. Regardless of whether the Senate approves the bill when it is reintroduced this November, the climate movement must be prepared for the next stage of climate and energy advocacy – one that will focus on renewable energy deployment.

A new and improved policy agenda must do several things: it must unite the nation’s climate movement that has been split by Labor’s flawed CRPS; it must be politically palatable for both the government and the public; it must exclude powerful fossil fuel interests intent on thwarting progress; it must be politically feasible to pass the senate; and all importantly, it must have a positive climate impact.

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Leigh Ewbank


Climate and energy writer based in Melbourne, Australia.

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