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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.

This week Tony Abbott and the Coalition opened up a new front in their ideological war against climate change action and carbon pricing.

In a move reminiscent of the US Tea Party, renewable energy has become the new target of Australia’s conservative party.

Not content with the ‘blood pledge‘ to repeal the carbon price, Abbott lieutenants Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb announced that a Coalition government would scrap the Clean Energy Finance Council (CEFC). If well designed and administered, the body is a potentially useful aid for Australia’s transition to a 21st-Century clean economy. The plan to abolish the CEFC threatens $10 billion of investment: $5 billion exclusively for renewable energy and the remainder available for cleantech manufacturing, energy efficiency and enabling infrastructure.*

The announcement confirms suspicions that the Coalition is becoming an anti-renewable energy party. This unwarranted position has implications for the domestic renewable energy industry, decarbonising the economy, and the political landscape.

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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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“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 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 leading US climate blog, It’s Getting Hot In Here.

Dissatisfied with the policies of both major political parties, the Australian climate movement are attempting to make climate change a key issue in the final days of the 2010 federal election. A coalition of leading progressive and environmental organisations will hold Walk Against Warming demonstrations in the nation’s capital cities at the weekend. ‘By coming together one week before the election,’ says event organiser Victoria McKenzie-McHarg, ‘the community has a real opportunity to put climate change back on the election agenda, and push our leaders to put policies on the table that will actually cut emissions.’

The Australian Youth Climate Coalition is running its own initiatives to get climate change on the agenda. The youth-run organisation will hold the final of three Power Shift conferences this weekend. In an effort to influence the election, each of the conferences were located in areas that ‘represent crucial senate races and marginal seats in the Federal Election,’ according to AYCC spokesperson Lucy Manne. ‘Young people will make up 20 per cent of the voting population this election,’ Manne explains, ‘and the Power Shift conferences will ensure that the issues they care about will be heard.’

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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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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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After weeks of silence, the Prime Minister responded to the Coalition’s accusations that his Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) is a ‘great big tax’.  The PM’s counter punch mimicked the Coalition’s attack, but argued that it is the Opposition Leader whose climate policy would impose a ‘mega-tax’ on Australians. Labor has since recalibrated its message, branding the Coalition policy a ‘climate con job.’ Fortunately this change in tact spares the public from an infantile debate about who has the biggest… tax that is.

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

Recently, the Australian Greens challenged the Rudd Government to “break the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) deadlock” by implementing an interim price on carbon. The move no doubt stunned many with its pragmatism and has since won the backing of the government’s former chief climate change adviser Ross Garnaut. While the move may give the Greens a PR boost, the proposal will work to strengthen the Coalition’s recent framing of carbon pricing as a “great big tax”. This of course has implications for Labor’s climate policy agenda in an election year.

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Leigh Ewbank


Climate and energy writer based in Melbourne, Australia.

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