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Coauthored with Dan Cass. Published by The Punch

In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama outlined his vision for an America powered by clean energy, traveling by High Speed Rail, and competing in global clean technology markets. Obama set out a clear principle: “[I]nstead of subsidising yesterday’s energy,” he implored, “let’s invest in tomorrow’s.”

Excellent idea Mr. President.

By choosing the future, not the past, President Obama has opened a fierce technology competition with China and Germany, to bring the cost of renewable energy down below gas, coal and nuclear.

Given that Tony Abbott and the Coalition are following the US Tea Party model and reject clean renewable energy on ideological grounds, it’s up to Prime Minister Gillard to follow Obama’s lead.

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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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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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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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The independent MPs and newly elected Green, harbour ambitions to change the nature of parliamentary politics in Australia. The new ‘gang of four’—independent MPs Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter, along with Green MP Adam Bandt—will decide which party forms the next government of Australia. They are using their leverage shake up the two-party system and to push for a more cooperative and consensus-based parliament.

Analysing their joint address at the National Press Club, Mark Davis points to the MPs’ divergent positions on climate change to illustrate the difficulty of reaching consensus on complex policy issues.

In the context of climate change, Davis’ analysis is interesting but limited. It conflates emissions trading with climate change policy. Disagreement on emissions trading doesn’t mean that consensus on effective climate policy is out of reach. It simply means that an ETS is unlikely to win the agreement from all parties. While emissions trading has dominated the climate policy discourse for years, there are alternative frameworks capable of winning the support of the public and parliament.

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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 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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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 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 Beyond Zero Emissions.

The Australian Greens have put high-speed rail (HSR) back on the national agenda. Greens leader Senator Bob Brown has called on the Rudd government to fund a study identifying the best route for connecting Australia’s two largest cities, Melbourne and Sydney, with HSR.

The ambitious project represents the type of nation building that should be at the heart of national climate policy. The project has the potential to reduce Australia’s ballooning carbon emissions, and kick-start the development of a larger HSR network that can one day connect all of Australia’s mainland capital cities.

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Leigh Ewbank


Climate and energy writer based in Melbourne, Australia.

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Creative Commons License All blogs presented on this site, therealewbank.wordpress.com, by Leigh Ewbank are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Australia License
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